DUBAI: Pakistan and Australia look to build up their squads in the shortest format of the game when they meet in the lone Twenty20 International here on Sunday, but both are missing key men.
Pakistan, who were World Twenty20 champions in 2009, will be without their key spinner Saeed Ajmal who is suspended from international cricket after his bowling action was found illegal last month.
Ajmal had been single-handedly shouldering Pakistan’s bowling attack, having taken 85 wickets in 63 Twenty20 matches — the highest by any bowler in this format.
The wily spinner has missed only three T20 matches out of the 66 Pakistan have played since his debut in 2009.
If Ajmal’s loss wasn’t enough, spinner and all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez was also ruled out of the Twenty20 and three one-days after injuring a hand during a practice game on Friday night.
Twenty20 captain Shahid Afridi said Hafeez’s loss added more responsibilities onto the team’s youngsters.
“Hafeez always plays a key role and it’s unfortunate to lose him,” said Afridi on Saturday at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. “But this gives an opportunity to youngsters to fill in and show their talent. I am confident with the side we have.”
Pakistan team manager-cum-chief selector Moin Khan said Hafeez’s loss was a big blow.
“Hafeez is an important player for us in Twenty20 and one-days,” Moin said. “He injured his webbing and has been advised to take a two week rest. The physio’s report suggested a minimum two weeks rest, which ruled him out of the limited-overs part of the series against Australia.
“The team management had thus unanimously decided that there was no point in retaining him on the tour. “
Pakistan had a miserable World Twenty20 in Bangladesh in April where they failed to reach the last four for the first time in five editions of the tournament.
That prompted captain Hafeez to step down, handing the responsibility to all-rounder Shahid Afridi for a second time.
Pakistan have included left-arm spinner Raza Hasan to replace Ajmal and also have an exciting leg-spinning all-rounder in Saad Nasim who is uncapped at this level.
Afridi hopes he will be able to guide the young squad towards the 2016 World Twenty20.
“We don’t have to look back, who is not available. We have to think of rebuilding the squad for the 2016 World Twenty20,” said Afridi.
Australia too have a new captain in Aaron Finch who took over after George Bailey stood down to concentrate on one-day cricket.
Australia also went out of the last World Twenty20 in the group stages but they have won six out of their nine shorter format games this year compared to Pakistan’s two from four.
Finch also has a young squad at his disposal after experienced all-rounder Shane Watson was ruled out of the full tour with an ankle injury.