Babar Azam has raised the possibility that Naseem Shah may not recover in time to take part in Pakistan’s opening games at the World Cup in India. While the PCB has not made public any timeline for Naseem’s recovery from a right shoulder injury, Babar appeared unsure as to whether Naseem would be fit for from the outset of the tournament next month.
There is more confidence that Haris Rauf, who is nursing a side issue, will be fit for the start of the World Cup; Pakistan did not even officially rule him out of the Asia Cup or formally induct his replacement, Shahnawaz Dahani, into the squad. Speaking post-match after Pakistan’s last-ball defeat and elimination from the Asia Cup at Sri Lanka’s hands, Babar was similarly confident about Rauf’s chances, while seeming to equivocate over Naseem’s full World Cup availability.
When asked what plans Pakistan had should Naseem and Rauf miss out, Babar was coy about back-up plans but did expand on the prospects of both.
“I’ll tell you later,” he said. “Not telling you our Plan B now. But yes, Haris Rauf is not bad. He’s just got a little bit of a side strain, but he’s recovering before the World Cup. Naseem Shah also… they have a couple of miss matches, I don’t know [how long] the recovery [is], but in my opinion, Naseem Shah also [will be] in the World Cup later on. But let’s see.”
The PCB has not yet detailed how severe the nature of Naseem’s injury is. He is currently in Dubai undergoing scans for the muscle injury below his right shoulder, one he appeared to sustain while bowling at the death against India on Monday. He went off in the middle of the over and was ruled out of the tournament soon after. Rauf didn’t bowl that day either, with the issue in his side keeping him out, and Pakistan rested him out of an abundance of caution with the World Cup fast approaching.
Naseem, 20, has had injury issues in the early stages of his career. A back injury he sustained one year into his international career when he was 17 years old kept him out of cricket for 14 months. Six weeks after his return, he was sidelined for a month with a shoulder injury he suffered on his debut in the County Championship with Gloucestershire.
In the 18 months since, his workload has increased significantly. While only a red-ball player at the time, Naseem has become a crucial bowler for Pakistan across all three formats. He is their most potent bowler since making his ODI debut, with 32 wickets in 14 matches at under 17.
In the absence of the two fast bowlers, Pakistan played Mohammad Wasim Jnr and Zaman Khan in their must-win game against Sri Lanka. Wicket-taking proved a problem for much of Sri Lanka’s chase, with neither able to make an impression, their combined nine overs going for 64 runs as Sri Lanka sneaked home at the death.
Pakistan’s squad will return home from Sri Lanka on Friday via Dubai.