KARACHI: Shahid Afridi’s second stint as captain will be made doubly difficult by the absence of key spinner Saeed Ajmal and former skipper Muhammad Hafeez as Pakistan and Australia, who are also missing key players, clash in a one-off T20I at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday.
Ajmal remains suspended due to an illegal bowling action, while the country suffered another blow yesterday when all-rounder Muhammad Hafeez was ruled out due to an injury sustained in a practice game. Australia, on the other hand, will be playing in the absence of Shane Watson and Mitchell Marsh.
Awais Zia is set to take Hafeez’s place to open alongside Ahmed Shahzad, while spinner Raza Hasan will fill Ajmal’s shoes.
Despite the setbacks, former Pakistan coach Mohsin Khan believes Pakistan are still favourites going into the game.
“Ajmal’s absence will hurt us badly going into the series against Australia but I still feel Pakistan can win tomorrow’s [Sunday] encounter,” Mohsin told The Express Tribune.
“Ajmal has been a match-winner for the past few years so he’ll be a key miss, but I feel Hasan is an intelligent bowler and he’ll do well. Hafeez is another big loss because when it comes to T20Is or ODIs, he is a very useful all-rounder who can turn around a match.”
The former Test cricketer added that Pakistan’s overall bowling unit has enough strength due to quality pacers in the form of Muhammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz.
Mohsin stressed that Wahab will be crucial due to his pace and aggressive form even on dead pitches, while the fast-bowler has also vastly improved his performance in the death overs — a job which was done well by Umar Gul.
This will also be a return of Afridi as skipper in the T20 format and Mohsin stated that it was important to get off to a winning start in the series to gain confidence ahead of the three one-dayers and two Tests.
Sami, Zulfiqar called in for ODIs
In wake of Hafeez’s injury, which has ruled him out for at least two weeks, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Shaharyar Khan endorsed the request for the all-rounder’s replacements — opener Sami Aslam and left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar, who were asked to stay back on the tour. Aslam will make his debut in the ODIs, while Babar might also feature in the 50-over format.
“The replacements were unanimously suggested by the team management, led by Moin Khan, manager/chief selector, and seconded by head coach Waqar Younis and ODI/Test captain Misbahul Haq,” read the PCB press release.
Meanwhile, Afridi, while speaking on the matter, said, “Hafeez has played a key role and losing him is disappointing. But you can’t underestimate youngsters and I am very confident.
“Both teams are balanced and a good game is likely to take place tomorrow [Sunday].”
The first of the three ODIs is to be played in Sharjah on October 7, followed by games in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on October 10 and October 12, respectively.