When Pakistan take on hosts England in their World Cup clash on June 3, it will be almost 10 years to the day that Mohammad Amir made his international debut.
Unless something drastic happens, Amir — at the peak of his physical powers, having just turned 27 earlier this month — will not be playing in Trent Bridge that day.
A lot has happened in these 10 years. Amir quickly became the darling of the nation before even more quickly becoming public enemy number one, or rather public enemy number three after Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif.
In this time, Amir has sparked countless debates. He has been loved and he has been hated, he been condemned and he has been defended, but he has not been ignored. Not until now. The prodigal son has been denied his shot at redemption and all of the stardom and love that he had glimpsed as a precocious 17-year-old all those years ago is now almost certainly forever beyond his reach.
It makes sense for Amir to be so divisive. This is the bowler who Virat Kohli labels as his toughest-ever opponent and yet this is the bowler who has taken five wickets in the past 14 matches since the start of 2018. This is a bowler who has beaten the very best for pace and yet this is a bowler who is struggling to bowl at even 140km/h at his peak. This is the bowler who was supposed to spearhead Pakistan this World Cup and yet this is a man who will be watching it at home like the rest of us.
Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed and coach Mickey Arthur had both publicly voiced their concerns regarding Amir’s form but the omission still comes as a shock, especially considering the players chosen in his stead.
Hasnain is the biggest shock of the lot, having played a total of three professional 50-over matches in his entire career. So untested is he that he is yet to make a single run in any form of professional cricket. As a bowler, that does not say anything about his talent but it certainly says a lot about his inexperience. So does the fact that he is yet to bowl 10 overs in a professional game of cricket.
Shaheen Shah Afridi, born just one day after Hasnain, is also among the chosen 15 and yet comes with a record so superior to Hasnain’s that even comparing them seems pointless.
Afridi takes a wicket every 19.36 runs he concedes, while Hasnain has an average of 78. Afridi’s economy is 4.78, while Hasnain’s is exactly two-runs-an-over poorer at 6.78. Afridi takes a wicket every 24.2 balls, while Hasnain’s strike-rate is 103.6. Hasnain, granted, has played just three games but the small nature of his sample size shows precisely how little he has done to warrant a spot in the side.
If Hasnain is to play, then it is to either be at Afridi’s expense or at the expense of experience; playing two 19-year-old pacers in the same match in a World Cup match is quite the risk, especially considering how brutal fast-bowling can be on the teenage body.
Amir is not the only pacer to miss out though and isn’t even the pacer who should feel the most aggrieved at his omission. Usman Shinwari, for some strange reason, has been ignored by chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq.
The left-arm pacer not only has the best strike-rate (23.5) of all current Pakistani bowlers but also the best average (19.32). He was Pakistan’s best bowler in the recent whitewash against Australia and while he isn’t the bowler he once was before his back injury, he remains Pakistan’s best wicket-taking threat alongside Hasan.
Faheem Ashraf, on the other hand, makes it into the side as an all-rounder but is yet to perform with the bat. He has an average of 13.27 and his 28 in the series against Australia was his highest score.
Some of the batting selections also do not make much sense. Abid Ali, scorer of a superb century on debut, is included but Mohammad Rizwan, scorer of two superb centuries in the same series, is ignored. One may be an opener but Pakistan have a pretty set top three for now.
Neither Asif Ali nor Umar Akmal have been included, meaning Pakistan will have to rely on either Shoaib Malik or Mohammad Hafeez to play the finisher role. Malik has an average of 13.63 and a strike-rate of 64.23 in England, while Hafeez has an average of 27.94 and a strike-rate of 69.14. Hardly the numbers you would want when you’re chasing a score of over 350 — a very real possibility in dry English conditions. Both Hafeez and Malik have looked painfully out of their depth in England — even if Hafeez did impress in this role in the final of the Champions Trophy. If Inzamam was to make a bold decision, this was where it was to be made.
And so Pakistan go into the World Cup with two express teenage rookie pacers and two middle-order right-handed batsmen who are well past their prime and struggled in English conditions even at their best.
Without Asif Ali, Mohammad Amir and Usman Shinwari, this team looks woefully unfit for the demands of modern day cricket. This is a side that, compared to the other giants, seems all too meek and all too mediocre.
There is still time till May 23 to make changes but this seems to be the locked 15 for now.
With such inexplicable calls, Inzamam and all those involved in this selection will have some very uncomfortable questions to answer if Pakistan fail at the World Cup.