Pakistan Cricket Team management never fails to surprise with its decisions. Whether it is performance, selection or making decision about newcomers, one can always expect the unexpected from the team management.
The teams usually give chance to youngsters and newcomers in a home series against weak teams. There is always pressure on debut, whether you are from any field. But in sports, the pressure on debut in always on peak, because there is a lot of difference between net-practice, first class matches and International cricket.
It’s an ideal debut for any youngster, if it is at home under familiar conditions, in front of the home crowd, who are supporting and chanting slogans for you. Pakistani players did not have this facility after the attack on Sri Lankan team in 2009 as they could not play at home. The debutants had to start their careers overseas or in empty grounds of United Arab Emirates.
Babar Azam was lucky enough to make a debut against Zimbabwe at home when International Cricket returned to home in 2015. Babar Azam scored a fifty on debut and his career was given a huge boost. Many careers were ended during this drought, as players like Umar Amin and some other promising youngsters had to play in foreign conditions and could not take the pressure.
Now the Cricket is finally coming back home as teams like Sri Lanka, West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have toured Pakistan in last 2 years. World XI’s team also toured Pakistan and one of the reasons for Babar Azam’s confidence and career boost was him scoring tons of runs against these teams at home.
Veterans like Shoaib Malik and Muhammad Hafeez occupied two spots in the team for a long time and finally decided to quit ODI cricket so there was a chance for some youngsters to grab an opportunity now. It was an ideal occasion as Zimbabwe were coming to Pakistan for 3 ODIs and 3 T20 matches.
But Pakistan’s team management against persisted with the experienced players, which were playing for last 2-3 years regularly now. Fakhar Zaman has been part of the squad since that century in Champions Trophy final 3 years ago. But consistency has been a big issue for him since then. Opponents know that he struggles against spin, does not have a footwork and many shots in his book. But still he was given a chance against Zimbabwe in the third ODI when the series was already won.
Despite having a youngster Abdullah Shafique in the squad, he was not given a chance in whole series, although he managed to make a place in 15-man squad for third match. It was have been an ideal debut for him at the same ground where he scored a lot of runs in National T20 Cup, which ended just before the Zimbabwe series. The Zimbabwean bowling was weak and had he scored a fifty or got some runs like Babar Azam’s debut in 2015, he would have got a flying start, but the team management was probably scared of a defeat.
Maybe it is because of the defeats against minnows in the past, which haunt the team management and they are too afraid to take any chance. But teams like Australia, England, India or South Africa also suffer upset losses, as it is part of the game. But even having experienced players like Imam-Ul-Haq, Abid Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Babar Azam and Muhammad Rizwan also resulted in a loss in first ODI.
This is time for Pakistan’s team management to realize that you have to invest in youngsters, keeping the future in mind, instead of being too scared of defeats and given chances to seniors even against minnows.
Another example is Haider Ali, who was given a challenging task of debuting against strong team of England in English conditions. But he was lucky enough to start his career with a fifty. Or else his confidence could easily have been shaken, had he been dismissed early.
The other thing which management will have to keep in mind in putting too much burden on young fast bowlers like Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah. Because injuries in young age can also ruin the careers for fast bowlers, like we have an example of Muhammad Zahid from the past, who looked to be a promising talent after becoming first bowler to pick 10 wickets on Test debut, but could not play much due to injuries.
Shaheen Shah Afridi has been playing literally every match in all the formats. We also have an example from recent past, Muhammad Amir, who was used too much and had to take retirement from Test cricket due to over-burden. Talents like Shaheen Shah Afridi have to preserved and used for important matches and series, like India does not use Jasprit Bumrah for every series and gives him due rest.
The T20 series against Zimbabwe will start after few days and team management will have to look at the situation closely, keeping in mind the work load of the bowlers and giving chances to young batsmen. Haider Ali and Abdullah Shafique could be handy for the future, if they are given confidence and boost now. Because Imam-Ul-Haq, Abid Ali and Fakhar Zaman have failed to impress even against Zimbabwe ODI series and may not be reliable options if management is looking forward to 2023 World Cup.
Next up is a difficult series in New Zealand, where giving chances to youngsters would mean, shaking their confidence so going with experienced players would be right choice. But hopefully team management would not make decisions like those made on difficult tour of Australia, where Muhammad Musa and Naseem Shah were handed debut caps against strong batting line-up featuring David Warner, Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne.
There is more International Cricket coming back home next year as England may send a weaker team due to Test series in Sri Lanka. South Africa may also send their team in January. So management must not repeat mistakes and give more chances to youngsters like Danish Aziz and Zeeshan Malik, who were ignored for Zimbabwe series despite doing well in the National T20 Cup.