So the West Indies series finished with a twist pretty similar to what made R.L. Stine’s popular”Goosebumps” series such a thrill. The West Indies finished with a victory so surprising, even the Pakistan selectors were caught off guard. The squad for the next assignment in New Zealand was announced even before the 3rd test was 2 days old. The Pakistan team, maybe sick and bored of winning all the time, conceded tamely to lose by 5 wickets. There was nothing at all extraordinary about the match, except that the Pakistan team failed to dismiss Kraigg Brathwaite in either innings, earning him the distinction of being the only opener in test cricket’s history to be not out in both innings. Oh, and Wahab Riaz had him caught, but it was a no-ball. See? Nothing out of the ordinary.
Back to the test squad, and surprise, surprise, Sharjeel Khan is in the team. Earlier, Muhammad Hafeez’s name was being thrown around as a specialist opener because Inzimam said they were looking to add experience in the side foreseeing the conditions in New Zealand. And who do we have? A limited overs specialist who is yet to make his test debut. While this may have turned quite a few heads (rolled a few eyes as well), there appears to be a logic in Inzimam’s selection.
He hasn’t made an entirely unjustifiable decision. Azhar Ali has struggled in his make-shift role as opener, over-looking the triple-century he made in the first test against the Windies. He only managed a further 172 runs in 5 innings with 2 fifties, and two ducks. It was clear he struggled against the new ball, and it is only going to get harder in New Zealand, with the likes of Tim Southee and Trent Boult operating up front in helpful conditions.
So the inclusion of a specialist opener is not surprising. The choice of the opener may be questioned, but to be fair, Sharjeel Khan has reasonable international experience behind him, and has proven that he is unfazed by whoever is bowling at the other end. He also did well in recent Quaid e Azam trophy matches, so his being in form may be the X factor Pakistan need, especially after the drab batting performance in the last test. I mean, if Chris Gayle can be a successful test player, there’s nothing to say Sharjeel can’t be one.
In more squad news, Zulfiqar Babar has been left out in favour of Mohammad Nawaz. I see that they’re probably not gonna play a second spinner anyway, but this still surprises me. Sure, Nawaz is one for the future and Zulfiqar may be closer to retirement, but Nawaz has so far not shown anything in his bowling that would promise a successful test career. He needs more time in the domestic circuit to hone his skills. Zulfiqar on the other hand is a tried and tested workhorse who could have come in handy had you needed a second spinner especially seeing the New Zealand batsmen against Ravi Ashwin in the recent series.
All said and done, a very exciting time for Pakistan team is up ahead. They have mastered the UAE, and now have the chance to show how much they can adapt to the alien conditions down under. Also, this will probably be Misbah’s final tour with the Pakistan team, so it may get emotional as well. Hopefully, the team can come out on the other side better and proud of its performance. That would be a perfect send-off.
Squad picture courtesy ESPN Cricinfo