Pakistan going to a World Cup with a full-strength side might remain a distant dream
The history of Pakistan's World Cup preparations has been marred by a consistent pattern of injuries and controversial incidents. This trend has persisted throughout the years, with instances like Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif's doping ban prior to the 2007 World Cup, Mohammad Amir's ban due to spot-fixing ahead of the 2011 World Cup, and the bowling bans imposed on Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez for illegal bowling actions, affecting Pakistan's bowling strength before the 2015 World Cup. It has become customary for Pakistan to face setbacks just before major tournaments.
Hence, Pakistan going into a big tournament with a full-strength side seems too good to be true. Pakistan seems to have all bases covered for the upcoming 2023 World Cup. Their top-order boasts of world-class talents like Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, and Imam ul Haq, all ranked among the top five ODI batters. The inclusion of Agha Salman and Iftikhar Ahmed has injected vigor into the lower middle-order, while the resurgence of Usama Mir has bolstered their spin options. With the likes of Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, and Haris Rauf leading their pace attack, Pakistan holds one of the most formidable fast-bowling arsenals globally.
Everything seems to be going way too smoothly except for Pakistan Cricket Board’s planning. The way PCB and team management is handling the workload of their pacers, Pakistan entering a World Cup with a full-strength side might remain a distant dream.
PCB has been liberally granting No Objection Certificates (NOCs) for participation in various franchise leagues to key players, even in the lead-up to significant events like the Asia Cup and World Cup. This approach raises doubts about the feasibility of Pakistan entering the tournament with a full-strength squad.
The repercussions of this leniency were evident in the past, notably during the T20 World Cup, where Shaheen Afridi's injury undermined the team's performance. Former PCB chairman Ramiz Raja conceded that Shaheen Afridi's participation in that event, despite his fitness issues, was a gamble taken by the team management due to the event's importance.
Unfortunately, PCB seems to have not learned from this experience. After the recent Test series against Sri Lanka, they allowed their star pacers, Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi, to partake in leagues such as the Lanka Premier League and The Hundred, respectively. The duo had also participated in England’s T20 Blast earlier this year.
I understand the importance of players earning their due from the opportunities presented by various leagues, especially considering they are missing out on lucrative IPL contracts. Nevertheless, the decision to permit them to play in franchise leagues just before Asia Cup is just asking for trouble. The PCB should have taken a more cautious approach, prioritizing the well-being of their fast bowlers and potentially offering compensation to their top pacers. This would have ensured they had sufficient rest before the demanding season ahead, which encompasses engagements like the Afghanistan series, Asia Cup, World Cup, and the Australia Test tour.
However, instead of this prudent strategy, Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf are set to arrive in Lahore on August 16, having recently played their final game in The Hundred on August 14. They will then depart on August 17 for the ODI series against Afghanistan, commencing from August 22.
Meanwhile, Naseem Shah is already participating in the Lanka Premier League, where unfortunately he has sustained a shoulder injury. This injury resulted in the pacer missing out on a must-win game for Colombo Strikers on Tuesday. The extent of Naseem's shoulder injury is yet to be determined.
Regrettably, the situation appears to be following a familiar pattern for Pakistan, characterized by the unfortunate tradition of losing key players just ahead of another World Cup.