Ahmed Shehzad was dropped in October 2017 after a string of abysmal scores. © Getty
With the World Cup just three months away, the upcoming Pakistan Super League (PSL) dishes up pivotal opportunities for players on the fringes to make a national comeback. This, especially, stands true after head coach Mickey Arthur’s statement that he and the national selection committee will be looking at the ‘borderline players’ in the Australia series to finalise the squad for the all-important tournament. The PSL, in the past, has not only brought lesser known talents to the limelight, but has also helped some – most notably one – to return to national colours. Remember Kamran Akmal’s white-ball return for the tour of West Indies after a prolific PSL in 2017?
Cricbuzz takes a look at who the potential contenders are this time around.
The highest wicket-taker in the history of PSL (48 wickets in 32 matches) will enter the tournament on the back of a scintillating 3 for 28 in Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) final. He has been out-of-contention in ODIs since his knee injury in Pakistan’s group-stage match against India in the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017 – in which he conceded none for 87 in 8.1 overs. His chances of donning more of the national colours faded when he was dropped from a 25-man probable squad for the tour of Ireland and England in 2018, with Arthur raising questions over his work ethic after the 33-year-old’s failure to reach an unofficial yoyo-test benchmark set for the fast-bowlers. Since June 2017, Riaz has featured in only two international matches – both of which were Tests – against Sri Lanka in October 2017 and Australia in October 2018. The left-arm quick, however, has a chance to leave an impression on the selectors. Historically, Riaz has enjoyed phenomenal success in the tournament as he has the best average and strike rate of 16.50 and 14.6 respectively.
The right-handed opener was dropped after the second ODI against Sri Lanka in October 2017 after a string of abysmal scores that year. His axing coincided with Imam ul Haq’s rise as the bespectacled opener, drafted into the side in Shehzad’s place, became only the second Pakistan batsman to score a century on debut in the format. The 27-year-old has remained under scrutiny following then head coach Waqar Younis’ scathing assessment of him and Umar Akmal after Pakistan’s flop World T20 campaign in 2016. He remained banned from all forms of cricket for last six months of 2018 for a doping violation and was omitted from the current list of centrally contracted players by the country’s cricket board. Shehzad was picked by Quetta Gladiators, for whom he played in the first and second seasons, in the supplementary category and he enters the PSL on the back of a below-par run in Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Grade-II Tournament with 109 runs, which includes a 57, in six innings.
The left-arm pacer was dropped for the South Africa ODIs because the selection committee felt he had not fully recovered from a toe injury that had curtailed his stay in the UAE during the New Zealand series. He responded by picking up eight wickets at an average of 10 in his first three BPL matches. Junaid’s fans often complain that Mohammad Amir is being wrongfully preferred over him. Considering his recent form, their claim seems to have substance. Remember the Asia Cup when Junaid finally played in Pakistan’s last match of the tournament — after Amir had gone wicketless in three matches — and returned 4 for 19? Since January 2016 (that’s when Amir returned to ODI cricket), Junaid’s bowling average and strike rate as compared to Amir’s have been better by 8 runs and 13 balls. With Amir’s continuous struggle to tick the wickets column and his subsequent demotion to the first-change bowler in the recently-concluded one-day series against South Africa, a prolific PSL might convince the national selectors to put Junaid on the plane to England.
Rumman, often termed as one of the finds of the PSL, hasn’t been out of the national contention due to a controversy or poor form. But, it was an injury to his knee ligament, sustained while fielding during the last PSL, which kept him away from cricket. His wicked slower-ones and epic celebration embellished the 2017 edition for him in which he was the third highest wicket-taker (12 wickets in seven matches) and had the best average and strike rate of 13.50 and 13. He then became a regular feature in Pakistan’s white-ball playing XIs till the time he got injured. He, during the window, marked his ODI debut in the semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy against England with 2 for 44.
He was the first of those PSL finds. The left-arm orthodox finished the first edition of the tournament as the third highest wicket-taker and was subsequently picked up for the T20I Asia Cup and World T20. He went on to make debuts in all formats that year as Pakistan looked to make a batsman out of him in their bid to search a reliable allrounder. He remained part of Pakistan’s white-ball squads throughout 2018 as a replacement for an injured Imad Wasim. A successful PSL can see him in Pakistan’s 15-man World Cup squad as a backup spin option.