In this file photo,  batsman Babar Azam pulls during his century in the World Cup warm-up against Afghanistan at Bristol County Ground on Friday. — AFP

LAHORE: While urging the Pakistan think-tank not to push panic button after the national team’s shocking loss to Afghanistan in the World Cup warm-up, former Test pacer Sarfraz Nawaz on Saturday told them to take the defeat as a wake-up call and play with the best combination at the mega event.

Afghanistan, featuring in a World Cup for the second time, stunned the critics in Bristol on Friday as a spirited Gulbadin Naib-led side defeated Sarfraz Ahmed and his men by three wickets in the World Cup warm-up. They successfully chased down 263 with two balls to spare.

“The Pakistan team is quite strong and there is no need to push the panic button on the eve of the World Cup. However, there is a need [for the touring team management] to come out with their best playing combination,” Sarfraz told Dawn on Saturday.

“So far the team management has failed to field the best combination. They committed some major mistakes in [picking] the playing XI in the Afghanistan match. From now onwards in all the matches, Asif Ali should be a regular batsman at the sixth spot, while only one from Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez should be inducted,” Sarfraz reckoned.

“During the [recently-concluded] ODI series against England, both Malik and Hafeez played the last two matches just to save their skin. Without them however, Pakistan achieved big totals [in the first three matches of the series] either batting first or chasing.

Sarfraz continued, “Malik did not bowl against Afghanistan and even Hafeez did not complete his full quota. All this shows both are lacking confidence, and are trying to save their places till the start of the World Cup by having less exposure,” he underlined.

Sarfraz Nawaz also wants skipper Sarfraz to take decisions intelligently.

“As captain, Sarfraz should also take wise decisions. [In the Afghanistan match] there was no need to change Mohammad Amir at one stage when he had started reverse swinging the ball but Sarfraz replaced him and brought in Shadab Khan,” Sarfraz pointed out.

The former fast bowler, while hailing the decision of including pacer Wahab Riaz in the World Cup squad, though at the eleventh hour, thought the team would miss pinch-hitter Umar Akmal at the premier event.

“Both Malik and Hafeez are not pinch-hitters unlike Umar who after having a good domestic season could have been a suitable addition in the World Cup squad as pinch-hitter,” Sarfraz, the 55-Test veteran, said.

“I think still Mickey Arthur is [still] not comfortable with Umar due to which the batsman could not get place in the team. Arthur should compromise with Umar also as he did on Wahab’s inclusion,” Sarfraz added.

Meanwhile, Sarfraz again appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was his new-ball partner during their playing days, not to abolish departmental cricket.

“At least the departmental teams should be allowed to play Twenty20, one-day cricket and also Patron’s Trophy Grade-II, a four-day event, if not Grade-I,” Sarfraz insisted.

Sarfraz feared that a significant number of cricketers would lose their jobs in case the PCB closes departmental cricket as per its proposed plan.

“The move [of abolishing departmental cricket] will not serve any national purpose. Therefore, I want to appeal to Prime Minister Imran Khan to allow the departmental teams to continue their decades-old role for the betterment of Pakistan cricket,” Sarfraz concluded.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2019