The Pakistan Cricket Board has announced a list of 33 centrally contracted players on call to play for international cricket for Pakistan.
With the era of Misbah ul Haq and Younis Khan firmly in the past, this now becomes a central contract award that will determine the direction the PCB is trying to send Pakistan cricket towards.
Of the 33 awarded, the PCB gave seven E category, five D category, nine C category, six B category and six coveted A category contracts in total.
Much of the attention regarding contract announcements has been hogged by Mohammad Hafeez. His tantrum regarding his demotion to category B, and subsequent refusal to sign the contract on offer has kept the other five recipients out of the picture.
Naturally, the first person on the list is the Captain of the cricket team in all three formats Sarfaraz Ahmad, who is accompanied by former Captain and ace test batsman Azhar Ali. The third on the list is Shoaib Malik, who is currently the most experienced hand in the team as well as a consistent performer and the backbone of the middle order in the limited over formats.
The three stars that have shone through are Yasir Shah, Babar Azam and Mohammad Amir. Yasir, having the unfortunate limited overs disadvantage of being a leg spinner, is still Pakistan’s go to bowler in tests and has rightly been rewarded with the PCB’s highest offer.
While it could be said that it is premature for the PCB to already give Babar Azam an A category contract, it is testament to his rising starpower and in recognition of him being the foreseeable future of the team in all three formats that he has been placed in the top tier.
Perhaps the most hard to explain of the choices is Mohammad Amir. Amir’s name immediately comes to mind as a category A player. But what one soon realises is that he has not fared too well in recent times, even if that is on the back of a string of bad luck. Let us hope he can turn things around and prove up to the task.
There were no great surprises in this one. While Mohammad Hafeez might think otherwise, he is a B category player at best. In fact, even that might be debatable considering his bowling is constantly under doubt.
Fakhar Zaman being brought up to category B is a nod to his belligerent batting with no consideration for opponent. While Pakistan is far from finding a stylish left hand opener the likes of Saeed Anwar, he is for sure a better option than the much hyped and much scandal embroiled Sharjeel Khan.
Shadab Khan has also been kept in category B, which he should be happy about considering he is still young in the team and has the shadow of Yasir Shah hanging over him. But with the variety to be effective with the white ball, he is a good prospect for the future.
Asad Shafiq finds himself where he is because he is limited to test match cricket. That is a significant disadvantage he has not been able to cover. His batting position also remains up in the air ever since Misbah and Younis have vacated their spots.
Faheem Ashraf is an iffy choice, not because he has not performed, but because he seems better fit for the company of Haris Sohail, Imamul Haq, Muhammad Nawaz, Usman Khan, Shaan Masood, Imad Wasim in category C.
Perhaps the only name that could be surprising in category B is that of Hassan Ali, who could might have been better suited for the top tier contract, especially given the nod the PCB has given to Babar Azam. The PCB, of all boards, should not make the mistake of prioritising batsman over bowlers.
There are two kinds of players here, either those that are just emerging and that the board wants on retainer but not at too much expense, and those that the boards is slowly trying to nudge out. Of these, luckily there are more of the former than the latter. Young blood is good for Pakistan cricket, and with the exception of Rahat Ali, Rumman Raees, Asif Ali, Usman Salahuddin, Hussain Talat, Bilal Asif, Saad Ali, Muhammad Rizwan, Shaheen Afridi, Sahibzada Farhan, and Umaid Asif are all promising young men.
The only question is what was stopping the PCB from putting Mohammad Hafeez and Wahab Riaz in either of these categories too.