As Pakistan mull over their World Cup squad, comeback star Shahid Afridi and several other teammates would come under a scanner during the one-day series against South Africa getting underway with a Twenty20 game in Johannesburg tomorrow.
“We would take a long, hard look at how players like Afridi, Shabbir Ahmed and Imran Nazir perform in this series before deciding our line-up for the World Cup,” chief selector Wasim Bari told ‘The News’ on Wednesday.
Pakistan are to announce their 15-man World Cup squad on February 13, ahead of the final one-dayer against South Africa in Johannesburg on February 14. The World Cup is pencilled in from March 13 to April in the West Indies.
The tourists made several changes to their one-day line-up after losing last month’s Test series 1-2, calling up Afridi, Shabbir, Imran Nazir, all-rounder Abdul Razzaq and left-arm spinner Abdul Rehman for the One-day International (ODI) series.
While a fit-again Razzaq is set for selection in the World Cup squad, the other four will have to deliver in tough South African conditions against a strong team to win a ticket for the Caribbean sojourn.
“We have made it clear to the players that there are no guarantees as far as the World Cup squad were concerned. Each one will have to prove his form and fitness to be in the team,” said Bari, who would fly to South Africa to witness the one-day series.
Afridi has been struggling for runs in the last 20 months while Shabbir returns to international cricket after serving a 12-month for an illegal bowling action. Imran Nazir has also not played for Pakistan in a long time while for the talented Rehman it would be a first away series after an impressive debut in the one-dayers against the West Indies at home in December.
Most of the 15 men Pakistan have named for the series against South Africa are likely to make the trip to the West Indies next month. Whether Pakistan make any changes to the squad would depend on how some of the players perform and also on the availability of injured pacers Shoaib Akhtar and Umar Gul.
Shoaib returned from South Africa following the second Test in Port Elizabeth after tearing a hamstring muscle while Gul was sent back after he failed to respond to treatment of his ankle injury.
Both players are undergoing rehabilitation to get fit in time to make it into the World Cup squad. Bari said that the pacers were “automatic choices” to make the final squad provided they are fully fit. “Nobody can doubt the calibre of Shoaib and Gul. It is their fitness that causes us concern,” he said.
The former Test cricketer said that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has taken a wise step by planning a comprehensive physical test for its players ahead of the all-important assignment.
“Fitness is of utmost importance these days, especially in a demanding event like the World Cup. We don’t want the episode of Azhar Mahmood to be repeated again,” he said referring to the all-rounder’s selection for the 2003 World Cup in Southern Africa where he didn’t play in a single match.
Bari is concerned over the dipping form of wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal and urged the team management to rest him for a few matches of the upcoming series.
“Kamran is a natural when it comes to batting but his problem is that he is not a natural wicket-keeper. Some dropped catches have added to the pressure on him and it is obvious that he is very tense behind the wicket. All he needs is to relax and enjoy wicket-keeping. I personally believe that staying away from the action for a few days should help him,” said Bari, an ex-Test wicket-keeper.
Bari said that Pakistan should bring in rookie wicket-keeper Zulqarnain Haider in at least for a couple of matches in the one-day series.
“The whole point in sending Zulqarnain to South Africa was to give him some exposure ahead of the World Cup so that we have some cover for Kamran in case he gets injured. I believe we should play the youngster in two or three matches of the one-day series to see whether he has matured and also to check his big game temperament,” he said.
Bari said that he would meet with coach Bob Woolmer, captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and other members of the team management in South Africa before finalising the World Cup squad.
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