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Does Mohammad Hafeez merit a spot purely as batsman?

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When rookie middle-order batsman Haris Sohail put in a match-winning 'all-round' performance in the first ODI between Pakistan and New Zealand in Dubai, many may have wondered whether Misbah-ul-Haq had found a possible replacement for the suspended Mohammad Hafeez.

Last Sunday, International Cricket Council (ICC) declared Hafeez’s action illegal and suspended him from bowling duties.

The 34-year-old joined Pakistan's ace spinner Saeed Ajmal in being suspended for the same offence, but was retained for the ODI series against New Zealand for his batting ability. Team manager Moin Khan said 'Pakistan's World Cup plans had been badly hit, but Hafeez had a lot to offer to the team as a batsman.'

But the truth is, the team never really counted on his batting as much as it did on his mastery with the ball. Such was his hold that the figures of 10-39-1 almost seemed a permanent fixture when the Pakistan bowling card popped up on the screen.

Does our emasculated attack stand a chance in Australia?
There is no doubt that it was the Professor's bowling which always made up for his shortcomings with the bat. And even though he scored a vital 76 to propel Pakistan to a competitive 252 in the second ODI against New Zealand, it was pretty evident from the way the second half of the game meandered that something was frustratingly off about Pakistan's combination.

New Zealand were 103 in 18.2 overs of their chase when they lost their first wicket. It was a helpless passage of play for Pakistan, who, led by Shahid Afridi for a good part of the chase after an injury to Misbah-ul-Haq in the field, seemed to be merely going through the motions thereafter.

Also read: The bowling is weak, with or without Ajmal

Mohammad Irfan, Sohail Tanvir and Wahab Riaz all looked clueless without the help of that strangulation which Hafeez and Ajmal had pampered Pakistan with for so long. It begged the question: is this the type of bowling attack that Pakistan and Waqar Younis is hoping will 'shine' at the World Cup?

With a question mark over the fitness of Junaid Khan and another injury to Umar Gul, Pakistan are also robbed of experience in the pace department.

Haris Sohail, even with three wickets in the second ODI, is nowhere near the 'all-rounder' or even the fifth bowling option that the team is looking for. And while we're on the subject, let's talk about the all-rounders because Pakistan seem to have got this horribly wrong recently.

Finding that match-winning all-rounder
A look at our history clearly show that we've been obsessed and in fact blessed with quality all-rounders. Be it Imran Khan in the ‘80s, or Wasim Akram in the ‘90s to Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq from 2000 onwards, all-rounders had a unique place in the team. The country's obsession even with Shahid Afridi stems largely from the fact that Lala has always had two halves of a game to show his magic.

It is a fact that the great Pakistani teams of the past were great because they've had men in their ranks who provided great balance and depth to the squad.

Also read: Mature knock from Haris shows Pakistan not low on hope or talent

Misbah's ODI team, at the very present, looks like a combination of bad choices after the injury to Sohaib Maqsood, and in the absence of Fawad Alam and the currently bench-warming reckless Umar Akmal.

Hafeez, Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan and Misbah all in one ODI lineup?

The batting selections seem confused, the bowling selections are missing genuine bowlers and one look at the Pakistan dressing room will tell you there's no one fit for the all-rounder's slot either. Anwar Ali and Bilawal Bhatti have barely improved with more exposure. Tanvir and Wahab are definitely not the guys, which again leads us to the inevitable Hafeez question: should he be in the team if his bowling action is not cleared before the World Cup?

Why I think there's no place for Hafeez
According to cricketing experts, Hafeez’s inconsistency with the bat would make things difficult for him.

The board and the team management need to realise that with Hafeez gone, Pakistan would be more in need of a strong opening batsman, rather than a bowler. The possibility of recalling Shoaib Malik has been examined but that would mean going back to another inconsistent performer.

And if it has to be like that, then why not Abdul Razzaq? If Haris Sohail is that all-rounder, then one would like to ask what has Fawad Alam done wrong? He has not only proven himself as a batsman on the international stage, but he has a much better first-class bowling record than Haris does.

Whether Hafeez stays in the team or not, one thing is for sure: his bowling suspension has left the make up of the team in really bad shape.

Pakistan’s preliminary 30-man World Cup squad offers Nasir Jamshed, Sharjeel Khan and Sami Aslam as genuine openers in the case of Hafeez’s possible axing.

Also read: Hafeez ban triggers fresh debate on opening pair for World Cup

Personally, I think that with an ODI average of 31, Hafeez does not deserve to be in the team purely as a batsman, let alone an opener. Jamshed is likely to be propped to that position for the remaining three ODIs against New Zealand. He may be a good option, someone who shouldn't have been sidelined after showing so much potential. He should, ideally, be on the plane to Australia and New Zealand as well.

So, who should take the vital all-rounder/fifth bowler's spot? Surely, it can't be Malik? His inclusion would be a slap in the face for all performers on the domestic circuit, all-rounder or not.

People like Naeemuddin, Ali Asad, Khalid Latif, Iftikhar Ahmed, Sohail Khan and Hammad Azam; some who have been tried and tested on the international level and have not delivered; at least deserve a few more games in Pakistan colours if even Malik has a right to be recalled.

Where did players like Yasir Arafat, Hammad Azam and Mansoor Amjad go? There may have been many beneficiaries of the board’s ‘politics of selection’, but at loss has been Pakistan’s cricket alone.

Maybe panic has struck after Pakistan's defeat to New Zealand in the second ODI. But with just a little over two months to go and the team in tatters, what else can be expected?

Pakistan is still left plugging in the holes.

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