Cricket

Champions Trophy 2017: Pakistan face selection worries as Azhar Ali, Wahab Riaz struggle for form

  • Saj Sadiq
  • May 31st, 2017
  • 17:52:17 IST

The rain on Monday at Edgbaston, during Pakistan's Champions Trophy 2017 warm-up match against world champions Australia, not only played spoilsport for the sparse crowd, but it also scuppered Pakistan's plans to test out some of their fringe players and apply some pressure on those that have been picked on a regular basis and have not been in the best of form lately. Only 10.2 overs of play was possible before the heavens opened up, and as puddles started to form on the lush green outfield, the umpires had the easy decision to make of abandoning play.

It was a frustrating day for players and fans alike as dark clouds formed overhead before light rain delayed the start. As the weather improved, the umpires decided that a 34-over-a-side match would be possible. In the 10.2 overs that were played, Mohammad Amir impressed for Pakistan, beating the bat regularly and bowling a tight line and length and dismissing David Warner with a fine outswinger. For Australia, Aaron Finch looked in ominous form with 36 not out that included seven sumptuous boundaries.

Azhar Ali (L) and Wahab Riaz's form will keep Pakistan worried. Reuters

Azhar Ali (L) and Wahab Riaz's form will keep Pakistan worried. Reuters

Pakistan, therefore, go into Sunday's huge clash against India slightly undercooked and with some important and difficult decisions to make regarding their starting eleven against the tournament's reigning champions. The recently recalled Azhar Ali struggled against Bangladesh and coach Mickey Arthur had hoped that left-handed opening batsman Fakhar Zaman would have had an opportunity to impress against Australia, but that was not to be.

Perhaps a good innings against Australia for Fakhar would have edged him ahead of Azhar in the pecking order. The opening spots still remain a cause of concern for the Pakistan think-tank with neither Azhar or Ahmed Shehzad looking like they are in the best of form, or prepared to attack the opposition bowlers and take some risks in the early overs. This low-key and defensive policy at the start of the innings could cost Pakistan dearly as it has several times in recent times.

Pakistan, however, can take comfort from the fact that their middle order from numbers three to seven is settled, with Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed and Imad Wasim occupying those positions. Babar has been an excellent find for Pakistan in ODIs at number three, whilst Hafeez is once again starting to show glimpses of his best form. The trio of Malik, Sarfraz and Imad is the real batting powerhouse for Pakistan and this is where the energy, big-hitting and impetus to the innings will be expected to come from.

Another interesting decision for Arthur and his management team is whether to pick the rookie all-rounder Shadab Khan who recently made a superb start to his limited overs international career against West Indies. The Indian batting line-up though will be a totally different proposition for the 18-year-old Shadab. However, a confident and highly talented cricketer, Shadab could be the wildcard selection that could surprise the Indian batsmen. His googly is particularly worth keeping an eye out for. What could sway Arthur and captain Sarfraz to select Shadab is that he is a modern day three-dimensional cricketer who can not only bowl well, but is an excellent fielder and a very handy batsman too.

Wahab Riaz's recent form in all formats has been a major concern for Pakistani fans, media and no doubt the coaching staff including bowling coach Azhar Mahmood. Whilst Wahab has always been a bowler who has not worried about his economy rate, he has of late lost that ability to take key wickets at important times. Add to this, a concern over a knee injury that he picked up against Bangladesh in Birmingham, and the picture does not look rosy for the Pakistani strike bowler. Wahab is likely to find himself in a match-up against Junaid Khan for who is to be picked as the third seamer, with Amir and the impressive medium-fast right armer Hasan Ali being guaranteed picks. Junaid looks like his injury worries are over and Pakistani fans will be hoping that his edge over Virat Kohli continues if he is selected over Wahab.

Fahim Ashraf is a name that will not be familiar to the Indian team and he introduced himself in international cricket with a match-winning and explosive innings of 64 not out in only 30 balls in the warm-up clash against Bangladesh at Edgbaston on Saturday. The bowling all-rounder was a relatively surprising pick for the Champions Trophy squad but if his performance against Bangladesh is anything to go by, he could be the find of the tournament for Pakistan. Fahim opened the bowling in tough conditions against Australia and conceded 30 runs in three overs. It was an experiment that is unlikely to be repeated against India, but Fahim's overs as the fourth seamer could prove pivotal in the clash between the arch-rivals. With the luxury of eight bowling options available for Pakistan, Fahim is likely to get the nod against India especially given his big-hitting abilities lower down the order.

Whilst the majority of Pakistan's team picks itself, the key decisions that have to be made are whether youth is given a chance over experience and whether some experimentation will be overlooked for a safety-first policy in a match that neither team will want to lose. Fakhar or Azhar at the top of the order and Wahab or Junaid as the third seamer are the key decisions that will have to be made by Arthur and Sarfraz. They will be hoping that they make the right call or there will be plenty of finger-pointing in their direction from the Pakistani cricket-lovers.

Updated Date: May 31, 2017 17:52:17 IST

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