Pakistan Cricket lab discovers the formula, almost, by mistake.

If the lineups of all teams at the World Cup are compared with what they were six months ago, Pakistan is bound to make to the top for the most unexpected outfit in the tournament. While other teams were busy sharpening their almost certain lineups, Pakistan spent the period playing with uncertainties and experimenting all the unthinkable ideas in what became a test lab more than a World Cup contender’s camp.

Roughly within six months to the start of the World Cup, Pakistan lost the services of two of the most reliable bowlers – Saeed Ajmal and M Hafeez. Considering, bowling has been Pakistan’s strength for decades now, it rang the alarm bells and triggered the analysis and hit-and-trial of all the possibilities.

A range of questions cluttered the preparation of Pakistan that included questions like, whether Ajmal would be clear for WC or not, whether Ajmal be included if he clears with a remodelled yet untested action, whether Hafeez be available to bowl or not, would it be worth playing Hafeez just as a batsman, what about Junaid, what about Irfan’s fitness, what about Umar Gul’s fitness, who to replace Junaid and Gul, can Sarfaraz be treated as specialist batsman, how about making one of the batsmen to keep wickets to make way for extra bowler, how about grooming one of the batsmen – Haris Sohail – to chip in as the sixth or even fifth bowler, what about Younus Khan, where to play him, how about using him as an opener to play an extra bowler, does Younus have a place in the team, where to fit in Fawad Alam if he is picked, can the team afford to play Sarfaraz just as a specialist keeper, who should be the replacement for M Hafeez at the opening slot.

This is a huge list of questions for any team; good enough to rattle and demoralise any think tank and make them go for crazy and out of the box solutions. With the race against time, mistakes and blunders were simply inevitable. In the space of just few months Pakistan lost the services of 4 bowlers (Ajmal, M hafeez, Gul and Junaid) and an opener (M Hafeez) who would have been automatic choice had they remained available for selection.

Considering all these challenges and hostile situation, the team management and selection committee deserve credit for sorting out a few things much better than expected. Sohail Khan and Rahat Ali were picked literally out of turn but they have already shown their worth and justified their selection. Similarly, carving a bowler out of Haris Sohail and letting him sneak into the top order has also provided much needed stability and peace of mind to the squad. Yasir Shah was also picked ahead of few other spinners who looked certain to make it till the squad was announced. All this good work has gone unnoticed and unappreciated primarily because of the failure of other experiments like playing an out of sorts Nasir Jamshed as an opener, using Younus as an opener, dropping Sarfaraz, making Umar Akmal to keep wickets instead and continuing with Nasir and Younus longer than many would have liked.

Having said that, Pakistan looks to have find the right combination which does not only look good enough but look pretty strong and penetrative as well. It looks to be a result of having “no other option” but the team that played against South Africa looks a pretty potent and challenging unit. With a competent keeper behind the stumps who is also good enough to give the momentum to the batting innings at the beginning and a battery of four intimidating pacers and a seasoned leg spinner, it now looks a pretty decent side – capable of challenging any good sides on their day. Getting your bowling, keeping and opening sorted as quickly as in an instant has completely changed the complexion of the squad.

However, batting still looks to be going through an experimentation phase and looks to have the right combination, almost but not completely yet. Haris Sohail’s injury made recall of Younus at number 3 a no-brainer. Similarly, the horrific form of Nasir Jamshed made Sarfaraz’s inclusion as yet another “no other option” scenario. Fortunately for Pakistan, both these ‘forced’ decisions turned out to be productive and with just one performance each, both Sarfaraz and Younus have almost cemented their places in the side. Considering the form Haris Sohail was in before he got injured, there is no point keeping him out at all and with him pushing for his inclusion, both Sohaib and Umar Akmal have come under the scanner who looked almost certain in the playing eleven till now even after putting up pretty ordinary performances to say the least.

At this point, the selection of the team looks pretty much streamlined. There are only a couple of decisions to make for the future games, that is whether to play Yasir or go with four pacers and whether Umar or Sohaib should make way for Haris Sohail. Suddenly, the problems of Pakistan team selection have turned into good problems to have.

With so much testing and experimentation going around, Pakistan Cricket lab has finally discovered the right formula. By mistake or by design? It does not really matter as long as it works out. Whether it will work or not? We will not be made to wait and see for more than four games so just hold on and see how it eventually concludes.

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