Pakistan have, unsurprisingly, kept faith with much of the squad that won them the Champions Trophy but with a couple of notable changes. They have left out former ODI captain Azhar Ali for the upcoming series against Sri Lanka in the UAE and included the uncapped batsman Imam-ul-Haq. Imam is the nephew of former captain and current chairman of selectors Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Relieved of the captaincy, Azhar played some of his most assured ODI innings in the tournament, including fifties in the semi-final and final. But the knee problem that almost ruled him out of the Test series is one selectors want to rest. That is one of the reasons Imam, an opener, has been brought into the squad.
Imam, 21, has been on the selectors’ radar for a few seasons now, especially when he was selected in the Islamabad side for the 50-over Pakistan Cup in 2016 – filling in for Misbah-ul-Haq. He scored a century in his first game. But questions will be asked about his inclusion on the back of what has been, at best, lukewarm form in the 50-over format. He played four games in the National One-Day Cup in January this year for Lahore Whites and scored only 96 runs (including an innings of 49). A month earlier in a National One-Day Cup for department sides, he scored 318 runs at 35.33 for Habib Bank. Over the last three years, Imam has played 24 List A games; in the last 10 months, he has played 13 matches, scoring 414 at 31.84.
According to some board officials, in the past Inzamam had expressed reluctance in pushing Imam into the national fold – in one of his first selections ahead of the England tour last year, he said: “I’ve seen his [Imam’s] first-class record, he hasn’t scored many runs in this season and I have not selected him. That should be the way.”
It would seem that has changed over the last year. “If you say he is my nephew then it was difficult,” Inzamam said of the selection in Dubai on the first day of the second Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. “But if you look at his performances then I thought it’s ok. We wanted to keep the Champions Trophy team, to continue that, but unfortunately Azhar has a knee injury through which we had to bring an opener up. In my view, of all the openers who have performed recently, he was pretty good in that and deserves the pick.”
The performances Inzamam spoke of have mostly been in the four-day game. Imam scored 848 runs at 49.88 in the last Quaid-e-Azam trophy, with three hundreds, including a double-century, for Habib Bank Limited. He has opened this season with a hundred for Habib Bank as well, against FATA at the end of last month.
“We have to see what the talent is, what he can do,” Inzamam said. “His performances in the QeA everyone can see. He scored two hundreds in an U-23 tournament. Then recently in Sialkot he scored a hundred, so we look at performances but also how much talent a player has. Mickey [Arthur] and Sarfraz [Ahmed] and others were also involved in this decision. We give all the names but there is a discussion. So it would be better to not look at this selection in that way.”