Pakistan’s hopes of coming at Australia with a rare two-legspinner combination have taken a hit with Shadab Khan all but ruled out of the opening Test in Dubai on Sunday.
Shadab has yet to recover from a groin injury he picked up during the Asia Cup, though Pakistan remain hopeful he will be fit for the second Test in Abu Dhabi.
The spinner is recovering from a groin injury he suffered during the Asia Cup 2018. Bilal Asif is expected to make his Test debut instead.
The left-arm pacer Mir Hamza is also among the list of players expected to make their Test debut on Sunday. Khan was being considered as the second-spin option for Pakistan alongside Yasir Shah.
Spin bowling played a key role in Pakistan’s 2-0 triumph over Australia in UAE four years ago. Yasir Shah, Zulfiqar Babar and Mohammad Hafeez grabbed 30 of the 40 Australian wickets in that series.
Nevertheless, Shadab’s absence will come as a blow. Earlier this summer, while Pakistan were on tour to England, Mickey Arthur was relishing the prospect of unleashing Yasir Shah and Shadab in tandem at teams in the UAE.
That tour was a breakthrough of sorts for Shadab in the longer format. Though his numbers shine with bat in hand – three fifties across the three Tests in swinging conditions – there were signs that his legspin was developing too. He was far from the finished product, but a vast improvement from his Test debut in Bridgetown in April 2017.
Yasir has not played a Test since October 2017 and now finds himself back as Pakistan’s strike bowler, with the uncapped offspinner Bilal Asif set for a likely debut and Mohammad Hafeez the third slow-bowling option.
“When we played Australia in 2014 we played some attacking cricket,” Sarfraz told reporters on Friday. “Yasir is our main bowler so we will want him to attack and get us wickets to win the series But similarly we will not put extra pressure on him and will not want him to go in a defensive mode so other bowlers will have to support him.”
Pakistan have not been historically averse to playing two legspinners in the same Test XI. Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed played a Test together in 1990 against West Indies; Mushtaq played a couple of Tests with Danish Kaneria in 2003.
And though Shahid Afridi counts as an allrounder, his legspin accompanied that of Kaneria in as many as 17 Tests. In the 60s and 70s, Intikhab Alam and Mushtaq Mohammad played together many times, both allrounders strictly speaking but both also legspinners.
Pakistan are considering another debutant in Mir Hamza, the left-arm fast bowler who could partner Mohammad Abbas in a two-man pace attack. With Mohammad Amir out of the picture, the choice would appear to be between the returning Wahab Riaz and Hamza, but the former’s low impact for Pakistan ‘A’ in the warm-up game may work against his inclusion.