Just when you imagined that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) could not sink to any lower depths of inadequacy and incompetence, they spring a surprise so remarkable that one can only lament ever having doubted their abilities to shock onlookers into meek acquiescence.
The announcements of Pakistan's Test, one-day international (ODI) and Twenty20 squads for the forthcoming "home" series against South Africa in the UAE have confounded all expectations in the best PCB tradition. It seems the PCB and the Pakistani selectors are content at going around in perpetual circles.
The squad selection though is almost unique in that it combines in one go all the mistakes made at various times in the past: The continued exclusion of the country's best batsman and the only viable captaincy candidate (Younus Khan): check. The expulsion of talented, younger players who have demonstrated a lot of promise and a solid Test temperament in their limited opportunities to date (eg Fawad Alam): check.
No room for uncapped but promising young players, the true future of Pakistan cricket (eg Junaid Khan, Mohammad Talha, Naved Yasin and Hammad Azam): check. The sudden and inexplicable recalls for poorly performing players who, in recent years, have disappointed more often than not, despite being given umpteen chances (eg Mohammad Sami, Misbah-ul-Haq): check. Plucking older players almost at random from the obscurity of domestic cricket at an age where a debut makes little sense (eg Tanvir Ahmed): check.
A captain selected out of the blue who, in the view of most cricket experts, would not even merit a place in the Test side (the unique Misbah again): check. So bizarre, in fact, is the recall of Misbah that Mohsin Khan, the chief selector, has disavowed all responsibility for it, stating that "the selection committee has nothing to do with the appointment of the captain". Misbah's recall, after most had assumed he had buried his international career, has the hallmarks of being another Ijaz Butt master-stroke.
This is a 36-year-old who has played only 19 Tests, despite making his Test debut in 2001. He was justifiably axed after the disastrous Australia tour earlier this year, in particular after his shambolic and irresponsible performance in the fateful Sydney Test. However, it is not just about one bad series; there is a pattern of poor performances. Since January 2009, Misbah has played nine Tests, but managed just three half-centuries in 15 innings.
His Test average for this period is a paltry 24, despite most of these Tests being played on benign batting tracks, and not in the difficult English conditions faced by other Pakistan batsmen this summer. Truly, his recall and his elevation to captain is a remarkable comeback, and a selectorial tour-de-force by the PCB. What is equally shocking though, and of more detriment to Pakistan cricket, is the continued exile, partially self-imposed, of Younus, a great batsman, a thorough professional and a more than able captain.
The one bright spot in the Test squad is the selection of Asad Shafiq, the young uncapped batsman who had impressed on his ODI debut against England. A more forward-thinking approach would have been to also consider Naved Yasin, the 23-year-old left-hander. Naved is a very promising batsman with a career first-class average of 51. After the impressive Shafiq, he was the second-highest run-scorer in the 2009/10 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Pakistan's premier domestic cricket tournament, scoring 1,055 runs at a phenomenal average of 70. The PCB would have been better served by investing in youth and potential instead of recalling failures such as Misbah.
Another talent that has been ignored for the Test squad is Alam, 25, despite a brilliant debut century in very difficult circumstances in Sri Lanka last year. Things are no less strange in the bowling department, with the perplexing recall of Mohammad Sami and the potential debut for Tanvir Ahmed ahead of the many promising youngsters playing in Pakistan's youth, A team and domestic circuits. Sami's selection is a bizarre and doomed-to-fail attempt by the PCB to bring in "experience" - experience of failure, maybe.
True, the PCB is in a tough place, having to replace Mohammad Aamer who was a once in a generation, maybe even a once in a lifetime, talent. It would be foolish to expect to find any other youngster of similar potential and talent. However, there are other promising young bowlers around. Talha and Junaid Khan, both not yet 22, are young pace-men of real ability and potential. This was the ideal time to groom one or maybe even both of them. Instead, the PCB chose to go for ageing has-beens and never-weres such as Sami and Tanvir.
Sami is in fact the exact opposite of Aamer. In just a year, Aamer has already broken various long-established cricketing records, and if or when his suspension is over, will doubtless win many more accolades. Sami is a record holder too: he has the unfortunate distinction of possessing the worst bowling average of all established Test bowlers. That's not just pace bowlers, but all bowlers, in the 130-year history of the game.
Such a record of failure over 34 Tests is also more than sufficient grounds for Sami's permanent retirement from Test cricket. Even an uncapped all-rounder, such as 19-year-old Hammad Azam, or the 22-year-old Anwar Ali, should have been preferred. That would have helped the balance of the side too. The selections of older players indicates that the PCB's famed "youth policy", announced with much fanfare in June this year, is no more. The youth policy, while extreme, has now been jettisoned for another extreme, with the selectors preferring failed but older players.
Not surprisingly, all this hints at a complete absence of a coherent selection strategy. Many decisions are mind-boggling and defy logic. The return of Intikhab Alam as manager, acrimoniously axed as coach after the Australia tour, merely confirms the impression of a board going around in circles.
Yasser Alvi is a cricket writer at PakPassion.net