‘Saeed Ajmal remains on the selectors’ radar’

Haroon Rasheed was appointed as Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chief Selector in March 2015 and has already overseen the selection of the victorious Test squad for the tour of Sri Lanka. A former batsman with 35 international appearances to his name, Rasheed spoke exclusively with PakPassion.net about the issues related to the choice of the 16 man squad for the ODI series against Sri Lanka, Pakistan’s chances of qualification for the 2017 Champions Trophy, as well as Saeed Ajmal’s chances for an international recall.

Excerpts from an interview:

PakPassion (PP) : The continued selection of Asad Shafiq and Anwar Ali for the One-Day squads appears to be unjustified given their recent records in this format. How do you answer this criticism?

Haroon Rasheed (HR): We don’t look at such matters in the way you [journalists] look at the situation. If you look at their careers, you will note that both of them haven’t been given consistent chances in the past. On top of that, we do not have other suitable resources to choose from. We will do what we can to move ahead with better options.

PP: Surely Hammad Azam’s non-selection cannot be justified for the consistency reasons — after all he has never been given a consistent run. Why is he being unfairly dealt with in this way?

HR: I’m not sure why people feel this. He is definitely in our “scheme of things”. After the departure of Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq, there has always been a need for a good quality all-rounder and filling this slot remains a huge problem for Pakistan. However, when we speak of Hammad Azam, can anyone tell me if apart from his performances at the Under-19 World Cup, what other high quality achievements he has to his name in First-Class or international level? As a matter of fact, in the past two years or so, he has remained unfit and just recently has come back from an injury. We gave him a chance against Zimbabwe, but it appears that he we need to observe him a bit more and see how he does in the domestic season. Of course he has potential and he will be of use to us in the future, but we don’t want to act in haste here. We want him to prove his worth and only then we can move on to better things.

There is no time frame or time limit, Hammad Azam has to simply perform better in domestic cricket. Others have performed well and are in the squad. Hammad has missed two seasons and has been out of the First-Class setup due to injuries. He has only just made a comeback after a serious injury and obviously, it will take him time to get back into shape after he plays in the domestic season.

There is some improvement in his bowling that we can see and he has some way to go to improve his batting as well. We have about fifty players that we have earmarked for this role in the future squads in all formats, and we will keep on rotating those players; Hammad Azam is one of those players.

PP: Another player who seems to make comebacks at a frequent rate is Fawad Alam. Why is it that he is unable to find a permanent place in limited-overs squads?

HR: There is no deficiency in Fawad. The fact is that in total of four hundred players that we are looking at for a place in the squads, only 15 or 16 will be picked at any given time. However, we have given him a few chances in the limited overs format during the Bangladesh series where he played three ODIs, yet he did not perform that well. By the way, just to confirm, Fawad was preferred over Asad Shafiq in those games.

Although he has done well in the past few domestic seasons and also did well on the Pakistan A tour of Sri Lanka, in our view, he seems to be better suited for the longer format of the game where he can play alongside Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. Fawad has been given consistent chances and we want the same for other players also. There is no doubt in my mind that he is international cricket material. He is a dedicated player and a good fielder and he will continue to figure in our long term planning.

PP: Umar Akmal’s participation in the ongoing Caribbean Premier League instead of being available for the ODI series has raised a few eyebrows. What is the story behind this?

HR: Let me state what I have said so before in the media. We asked players including Umar Akmal who were in contention for the ODIs against Sri Lanka to report to the National Cricket Academy,  but he didn’t show up. Having said that, he is playing Twenty20s in the Caribbean at the moment which is fine. As is, his One-Day International performance in the last few games hasn’t been that great, so yes, he can continue with the CPL and if we feel a need to call him back urgently, we will do that.

PP: Discipline is a word which has been mentioned against Umar Akmal’s name in the recent past. How much of that is behind the reason to exclude him from the ODI squad?

HR: I won’t go into specifics, but every player knows their responsibility as nothing can work without discipline. Each player has to keep themselves focused on the task of playing cricket for their country. If there is a breach of discipline then regardless of where in the world, or what level of cricket, action needs to be taken to fix the situation. We have the cases of Andrew Symonds or Andrew Flintoff who were punished for disciplinary reasons. There are no two ways about this.

Let me also add that in Umar Akmal’s and Ahmed Shehzad’s cases, both were punished in the past for disciplinary reasons and they have since come back, with Umar playing T20Is for Pakistan, so to say that disciplinary issues had anything to do with the ODI squad selection is incorrect. All the players have to do is to keep on performing and they will be selected.

PP: Sami Aslam has played just one ODI where he impressed with 45 runs off 50 balls. Why does he find himself ignored for this ODI squad?

HR: You need to remember that Sami Aslam was only in the team as a replacement for Ahmed Shehzad. When Ahmed returned to the squad, a player had to make way for him. In addition, Sami Aslam has still got some work to do in domestic cricket to iron out some flaws in his technique which we have pointed out to him. He is just 19-years old and we have other similar aged players like Babar Azam who we have been identified as future players for Pakistan. If and when Ahmed Shehzad’s form slumps and Sami is performing well in domestic, then obviously Sami will take his position in the team. Sami is part of a pool of five or six openers that we have identified as the ones that will represent Pakistan in the future.

Why is it that whenever we as selectors drop a player, it appears that a calamity has fallen on the player. The fact is that decisions for inclusion in the squad are taken based upon our strategy. Being excluded from the squad for a particular series doesn’t imply that a player has been discarded forever. People also must understand that our domestic cricket is unable to produce players who can easily make the leap to international cricket. Only by giving players more chances at the international level will we be able to make proper international players out of them. So the idea is to slowly give international exposure to these players so that they can over time establish themselves in the team.

PP: Turning to the recently-concluded Test series against Sri Lanka, you must be pleased with how the chosen squad has performed there?

HR: Very pleased indeed. We were 13 for two at one point in the second innings of the third Test, and then recovered with a fantastic record-breaking innings by Younis Khan, with a bigger plus point being how Younis guided Shan Masood to play well also. These are all positive signs for Pakistan. However, it pains me to say that our biggest problem is the issue of consistency of performance. This is not a new problem; it was even an issue in the time I was playing for Pakistan. The problem is maintaining the level of performance as one day we are on top of the world, the next day we nosedive and crash in embarrassing fashion. What we need to do is to try and stop this variability in our performances. What we saw in the Test series was that we won the first Test within four days, then crashed out in the second Test, then we were on top of our game in the final Test which is not the way forward.

PP: So what is preventing this consistency within our performances? Are we not selecting the right players?

HR: Obviously we want to bring in players who have the ability to deliver consistently. We have players like Asad Shafiq who played brilliantly one day but the next innings he fails and so on. This is not what good players do. Instead, they improve on their performances and not have a string of failures after one brilliant performance. It’s not just the batsmen who are at fault here, even our bowlers take one good five wicket haul and then go wicket-less in the next game.

This is what we need to work upon. Our domestic cricketers are not very mentally strong or focused. What they need to do is to forget about their good performance on a given day and approach every game as a new game. But, it appears that they look at their past performance and tend to get relaxed.

PP: Mohammad Irfan is back in the ODI squad after the 2015 World Cup. Are you satisfied with his fitness?

HR: It’s a good sign that he is back to a level of fitness that has allowed us to pick him for the ODI squad. The intent is to limit his use only for the shorter version of the game. But let’s be clear about one thing. He has never become injured or unfit whilst bowling. His problems have only come when he has fallen awkwardly. Due to his height, whenever he falls, the transfer of body weight causes injuries to his back areas. We have now told him to be extra cautious and not fall over. All of his injuries have been due to bad falls. In New Zealand, he slipped on grass which was moist and hurt himself. But all that is history now and we are very impressed by his progress and he seems to be in good rhythm as well. We hope that he can once again deliver for Pakistan.

PP: Are you hopeful that Pakistan will be able to make the grade for the Champions Trophy?

HR: We are all focused towards this goal but you have to recognize the issues we are facing. Almost half of our team is new, with Saeed Ajmal not being available or ineffective and Mohammad Hafeez having issues with his action. In addition, we have lost the services of Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi. These were all the main contributors to our past successes. It is not easy to replace all these players.

We are trying new players in their places but then we have injuries to Haris Sohail and Sohaib Maqsood which really doesn’t help the situation. I am also hearing that Asad Shafiq is also nursing an injury. In effect, five or six of our best players have been removed from the team in the past few months. To replace so much lost talent is not easy and difficult to handle for any team in the world. We can only hope that the combination which is chosen from the squad will click against Sri Lanka who are a tough team to beat. The competition will be very tough but we will have to beat them to keep our hopes alive for the Champions Trophy.

PP: You must be pleased with the progress Saeed Ajmal is making in his stint with Worcestershire in England?

HR: He’s been a great asset for Pakistan and is doing well in the county season and bowling really well with his new action. We are in touch with him and he is keeping us informed about his progress. He remains on the selectors’ radar and in the reckoning especially since he has put in a lot of effort with his new action.

PP: Mohammad Amir is making some progress in some of the local tournaments. Are you also keeping an eye on how he’s coming along?

HR: He hasn’t really started playing serious cricket yet and has recently suffered an injury so it’s too premature to comment on that subject. Once Amir is back in domestic fully then we can talk again on this subject and properly assess how he is doing.


(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion, where the article first appeared)