Pakistan cricket selectors have named a 20-member squad, including nine uncapped players, for the two-Test series against South Africa, which commences here on 26 January. The players will enter the bio-secure bubble on 19 January and the squad will be trimmed to 16 players ahead of the first Test.
Openers Abdullah Shafique and Imran Butt, middle-order batsmen Kamran Ghulam, Salman Ali Agha and Saud Shakeel, spinners Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan, and fast bowlers Haris Rauf and Tabish Khan have been rewarded for their stellar performances in the 2020-21 domestic season, including the first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
Hasan Ali has returned to the Test side after two years following a highly successful Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in which he was adjudged player of the final and tournament. Hasan, whose ninth and last Test appearance was against South Africa in Johannesburg, took 43 wickets and scored 273 runs in a fierce and highly competitive Quaid-e-Azam Trophy that included match figures of five for 129 and 106 not out in the second innings of the tied final.
Also returning to the side is left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz, who took 22 wickets with two-fers and scored 744 runs in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. He last played a Test against the West Indies in Sharjah in 2016.
Nawaz and Faheem Ashraf are the two-all-rounders in a side that also includes three openers, six middle-order batsmen, two wicketkeepers, three spinners and four fast bowlers.
Haris Sohail, Mohammad Abbas, Shan Masood and Zafar Gohar, who played in the last Test in Christchurch, have been left out. Haris, Abbas and Shan will be invited to the High Performance Centre in Lahore so that they can work on their technical faults with the qualified coaches. Zafar who made his Test Debut in Christchurch remains part of selectors long term plans in both red and white ball cricket, and will also work with NHPC coaches on further improvement of his all-round skillset.
Fast bowler Naseem Shah was not considered for selection after complaining of a niggle in his hamstring. He will shortly commence his rehabilitation programme at the National High Performance Centre.
The 20-player squad is:
Openers – Abid Ali (Central Punjab), Abdullah Shafique (Central Punjab) and Imran Butt (Balochistan)
Middle-order batsmen – Azhar Ali (Central Punjab), Babar Azam (captain, Central Punjab), Fawad Alam (Sindh), Kamran Ghulam (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Salman Ali Agha (Southern Punjab) and Saud Shakeel (Sindh)
All-rounders – Faheem Ashraf (Central Punjab) and Mohammad Nawaz (Northern)
Wicketkeepers – Mohammad Rizwan (vice-captain, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Sarfaraz Ahmed (Sindh)
Spinners – Nauman Ali (Northern), Sajid Khan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Yasir Shah (Balochistan)
Fast bowlers – Haris Rauf (Northern), Hasan Ali (Central Punjab), Shaheen Shah Afridi (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Tabish Khan (Sindh)
Chief selector Muhammad Wasim: “I want to congratulate all the uncapped players who have made it to the 20-player Pakistan Test squad. These nine players are now just a step away from representing Pakistan in the pinnacle format of the game. As such, they have an outstanding opportunity to step-up show their class and potential, and perform strongly so that they can cement their places for future international assignments.
“This is a reward for their consistent performance, hard work and perseverance during a difficult season played under the strict Covid-19 protocols. This is also an endorsement that domestic cricket will be valued and respected, and will remain a stepping stone for international cricket. All those players who aspire to represent Pakistan at the global stage will not only have to feature in it but also perform at the expected levels to earn the selectors’ nod.
“For the players who have narrowly missed out on selection, I want to encourage them to retain their focus and continue to work hard as we have a busy and packed 2021 ahead. This means there will potentially be opportunities at some stage down the year. I will like to see these players continue to focus on their fitness and form even after curtain falls on the 2020-21 season so that whenever they get a call-up, they are ready to cash in on the opportunity.
“Haris Sohail, Mohammad Abbas and Shan Masood have been dropped due to inconsistent performances. However, the PCB will not let its investment on these talented players go to waste and will invite them to the High Performance Centre so that they can work out their technical flaws and get back into contention.
“Shan’s bad form has opened doors for Abid Ali’s new partner, be it either Abdullah Shafique or Imran Butt, who was last season’s top scorer. Together with Abdullah, he was in New Zealand with the Shaheens side.
“Kamran Ghulam (1,249 runs), Saud Shakeel (970 runs) and Salman Ali Agha (941 runs) walk into the middle-order to support Azhar Ali, Babar Azam and Fawad Alam. This is a formidable and highly skilled middle-order, which will encourage a further healthy competition for a permanent place in the side.
“With Naseem Shah and Shadab Khan not available due to niggles, the selectors have shown faith in bowlers with diverse variations and skillsets, who also know our conditions at the back of their hands.
“The horses for courses policy means performers like left-arm spinner Nauman Ali, off-spinner Sajid Shah, and fast bowlers Haris Rauf and Tabish Khan will be available for selection, depending on the team composition for the first Test against South Africa in Pakistan in 14 years.
“Wrist spinner Zahid Mahmood had a strong case after an excellent season, but we decided against going into the series with all four inexperienced spinners. Yasir Shah understands pressures of international cricket and is familiar with the demands, challenges and expectations of the purist format of the game.
“Tabish Khan has been preferred over Sohail Khan as he is more effective and useful in Pakistan conditions. Like Mohammad Abbas, Tabish is a workhorse, who can bowl long spells with controlled line and length. His 598 career first-class wickets, including 30 wickets this season, is a testament that he is a like-to-like replacement for Mohammad Abbas in the given conditions.
“Faheem Ashraf and Mohammad Nawaz are two all-rounders of contrasting skills and should provide more selection options to the team management.”