KARACHI: Pakistan are bracing for the likelihood of playing the World Cup without key spinner Muhammad Hafeez. The opening batsman has been one of the most economical bowlers in the 50-over format in recent years and his absence from the bowling crease is hurting the balance of the playing eleven.
Hafeez is likely to undergo a Test on his action in Brisbane on the eve of the tournament but if he fails to get clearance, Pakistan are to gamble by taking to the field with only four specialist bowlers.
In the recent series against New Zealand held in the UAE, the team management gambled with four regular bowlers and the Black Caps rattled off big scores in the last two games of the ODI series to run away with the spoils.
In the last match before that series — the final ODI against Australia — Pakistan played five bowlers, including bowling all-rounders Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir and Anwar Ali.
Wicket-keeper Sarfraz Ahmed opened the innings with Ahmed Shehzad as Hafeez was ruled out due to a webbing injury. Subsequently Hafeez was suspended from bowling at the international level after the Tests against New Zealand.
Selector Shoaib Mohammad, who chose the final 15 for the premier tournament along with five other members of the committee, feels that Pakistan’s batting has the pedigree to post and chase big scores in Australia and New Zealand.
According to Shoaib, the modern rules in the ODI format where only four fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle make things tough for both regular and non-regular bowlers.
“Now a non-regular bowler should be expected to concede six runs per over but I believe our batting has the depth and the pedigree to chase down the runs and even post big totals,” he said. “The depth in the lower order with Sarfraz and Afridi is our strong point, hence even if we are a bowler short, the batsmen can win games for us.”
Playing four bowlers is a risky proposition: Mohsin
Former coach and chief selector Mohsin Khan feels that fielding a bowler short can be hazardous for the men in green.
“Playing with four bowlers only against strong opposition in an event like the World Cup can backfire badly,” he said. “A bowler like Sohail can be exposed under pressure, even Shahzad and Younus cannot be depended on. The trio can be relied on every now and then but not all the time, especially in pressure situations such as the knockout stages. It would be unfair too on all these batsmen who are expected to chip in as bowlers.”
Sarfraz should open the innings: Rashid
Former captain Rashid Latif also feels that five regular bowlers are needed if Pakistan are to do well in the World Cup. The wicketkeeping great wants Sarfraz to play as an opener if Hafeez is ruled out as a bowler.
“The fifth bowler is absolutely essential, we should be sacrificing a batsman, and Sarfraz should open if Hafeez cannot ball,” he said. “Considering the rules in place, we should beef up our bowling stocks and rely on five specialist batsmen, and Afridi and Sarfraz.”
Hafeez will clear test: Basit Ali
Meanwhile, head of the junior selection committee, former Test batsman Basit Ali, is confident that Hafeez will be cleared before the World Cup. However, he feels that specialist batsmen and bowlers are the ones who generally win matches and should feature prominently.
“In an event like the World Cup, specialists help and we should also opt for specialists and play five bowlers,” he said. “But I think Hafeez will clear his action, mark my words he will be the same bowler as before, basically his problem is his left foot and the landing and once that is sorted, he should be back to his best.”
Basit applauded the emergence of Sohail as a fifth bowler but feels that a team like India can take him apart.
“India is renowned for their batting skills against slower bowlers,” he added. “Sohail might struggle to make an impact against our arch-rivals, so let’s hope that we have Hafeez available as a bowler for the crucial opening tie.”
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