Unfazed by the severe criticism concerning the omission of batsman Fawad Alam, chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq insisted he has seen "better players in the last three years". He has been passed over for national selection, and this time, it ignited nationwide anger.
Alam's selection - or lack thereof - has been an enigma for years. Despite the mounds of runs he accumulates year upon year in domestic cricket - his average in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy over the past four years has been 40.71, 55.54, 56 and 71.90 - the left-hander has been overlooked for Tests by various selection committees and captains over the past eight years. He made his Test debut in 2009, scoring 168, and played a further Test against New Zealand later that year, but was subsequently dropped, and hasn't played Test cricket since. During the intervening years, he made it into the limited-overs squads occasionally and went on to play 38 ODIs and 24 T20Is until 2015. But it is Test cricket he is best suited to, his average in the first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy consistently well over 50.
He was called up by Inzamam among the 25 probables in the fitness camp ahead of the Ireland and England tour, only to be overlooked yet again.
"Fawad Alam is an outstanding player but in the last three years there are others at the top of the list," Inzamam told ESPNcricinfo. "We got him here in the nets but we found Saad Ali to be better, and the decision to prefer Saad was unanimous, with input from all the coaching staff and captain. Fawad is a good player and we obviously can't ignore his career average; that is why he was brought into the camp. During my tenure, I have given 12 to 14 players an opportunity and none of them have disappointed us. If you look back in the past three seasons, there are players who have scored more runs than Fawad Alam.
"Dropping any player doesn't mean we are disregarding them. It's easy to pick players following scorecards or statistics, but there are many more things we take into consideration. I am not sure why Fawad wasn't picked in the past before me but if you ask me about my tenure as chief selector, I have seen better players."
Alam was last picked in a Test squad in 2015 that played three matches against England, but he never made it into the playing XI. He sat out for several years because of a settled middle order comprising Misbah-ul-Haq, Sarfraz Ahmed, Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq. But with the exit of Misbah and Younis, Alam's prospects looked bright. Instead, the selectors opted to bring in younger players , recalling left-hand batsman Harris Sohail, investing in Sami Aslam, and now Usman Salahuddin and Saad Ali - who scored 957 runs at an average of 68.35 in last year's Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
"I am not taking away anything from Fawad, as he has scored a lot of runs in domestic cricket at a great average. When there is a competition, some players get left out, but that doesn't mean their career ends there," Inzamam said. "We haven't ignored him, we have actually given an opportunity to a few others we thought were more suited to English conditions. Last season, we had tough bowling conditions in the QeA, and Saad Ali was a stand-out performer, and that is why he was preferred. I have spoken to Fawad on many occasions and given him the confidence to keep on working hard.
"I know people are very critical about his non-selection but we need to see things in perspective. People have expectations and they want to see their team win every game which brings a lot of responsibility on us. I have nothing against any player. We have a responsibility and what is important is we do not fail it. We must select players on merit. I am lucky that most of my picks so far are paying off well, and we now have a bigger pool of players."
Talk of merit invariably raises the uncomfortable topic of Imam-ul-Haq in the team. Imam is Inzamam's nephew, and his selection for the tour of England raised eyebrows, particularly because he had a slightly worse average than Alam in the 2016-17 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the last season both of them played the competition together. Imam was, however, the third-highest run-scorer that year in the competition, and was picked for the ODI series against Sri Lanka, and ended up scoring a century on debut.
"Picking Imam is a tough decision but this is one decision I didn't take," Inzamam said. "People might be cynical about this but the head coach [Mickey Arthur], batting coach [Grant Flower] and other selectors made the decision to select Imam. I am the part of the discussion group, but I didn't say anything about it. The report given by trainers and coaches about him showed a significant improvement in his skill and fitness levels. He was already in the system even before my becoming selector, so associating me shouldn't be a point of discussion."