Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal are two controversial names in Pakistan cricket that have been away from international cricket for most parts of the last 18 months due to disciplinary issues. But Moin Khan, the head coach of Quetta Gladiators in the PSL, has been helping both players get back on the international circuit and believes they have a future in the Pakistan team.
Akmal has played three match-winning innings in the last month in the PSL to impress both the Pakistan head coach and the selection committee to earn back the lost reputation, to be picked in the ODI squad to face Australia, and could even be picked for the World Cup starting in May. He had lost his place earlier when he was involved in a public spat with head coach Mickey Arthur, leading to a three-match ban and a PKR 1 million fine. In addition, the PCB also revoked all No-Objection Certificates issued to him for participating in overseas tournaments for two months.
Ahmed, an opening batsman, has been out of favour because of form and off-field issues, the most recent of them came in late 2018 when he tested positive for a dope test.
Both batsmen have also had troubles with coaching staff in the past. Former head coach Waqar Younis had presented a scathing report after the 2016 World T20 debacle, insisting both players be made to re-earn their places in the national squad with performances in domestic cricket. Both were dropped immediately and since then both struggled to break into the squad even after Arthur took over.
“Entire Pakistan knows how talented both players are, they are too good especially in this format,” Moin, who picked both Akmal and Shehzad in the PSL, said. “You know when a player has the ability and can deliver not only for your team but for Pakistan also, and I personally believe both are deserving players. They are the kind of players who can walk into the Pakistan team anytime and Umar gave that example recently. Unfortunately, Ahmed wasn’t in form earlier but later he also came into form.”
After they were dropped, Arthur and the selection committee led by Inzamam-ul-Haq gave chances to youngsters Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq in the top order with the middle order occupied by Shoaib Malik, Babar Azam and Imad Wasim.
“Coaches aren’t only supposed to diagnose the disease but should provide the treatment as well,” Moin said. “Unfortunately, whatever happened with these kids earlier…they are good players and our assets. So all we did was treated them right and gave them the due respect. If a player is given the respect he deserves then I don’t think there is any reason for him to not perform well. They have behaved well throughout the tournament, they have a good discipline and that’s why they are performing. So with a clear mind I can say that if both keeping doing this, they can be in the Pakistan team in the future.”
Pakistan recently rested six of their main players, including regular captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, for the ODIs against Australia. He is currently leading Quetta, who are leading the PSL table with seven wins from nine matches. When asked if it was a right decision to rest Sarfaraz from international cricket and if Quetta were considering resting him too, Moin drew a line between franchise cricket and national team.
“Every decision is right if it has the consent of all parties,” he said. “I don’t think that such a big decision would have been taken by the selection committee without speaking to him (Sarfaraz). I think rest is important for Sarfaraz as he has been playing a lot of cricket continuously for the last five to six months.
“In the PSL, it’s our requirement to play him but when you are planning for a bigger prospect [like World Cup] then a player needs rest at some point. So this decision is with a mutual understanding and I support it.
“One thing that might be important is that he should have been with the [Pakistan] team even while resting, and be a part of all the decision making during the Australia series. We all know he is our World Cup captain and everything should be happening around him. Ideally, he should have been with the team [as a non-playing member] but it’s still okay now that the team is announced.”
After playing five ODIs against Australia in the UAE at the end of this month, Pakistan will tour England in April-May for three warm-up matches and five more ODIs against England, before the World Cup.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent
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