Pakistan Cricket Board on Friday announced a 20-member squad including nine uncapped players for the two-Test series against South Africa that starts January 26 in Karachi.
The players will enter the bio-secure bubble on January 19 and the squad will be trimmed to 16 players ahead of the first Test.
Openers Abdullah Shafique and Imran Butt, middle-order batsman Kamran Ghulam, Salman Ali Agha, and Saudi Shakeel, spinners Nauman Ali Khan and Sajid Khan, and pacers Haris Rauf and Tabish Khan have been rewarded for their stellar performances in the 2020-21 domestic season including the 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.
Chief selector’s comments
Muhammad Wasim said the nine players 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 steppingstone for international cricket. All those players who aspire to represent Pakistan on the global stage will not only have to feature in it but also perform at the expected levels to earn the selectors’ nod,” he added.
He encouraged players who did not make the squad to retain focus as the PCB looks for a packed 2021. “I will like to see these players continue to focus on their fitness and form even after the curtain falls on the 2020-21 season so that whenever they get a call-up, they are ready to cash in on the opportunity.”
Wasim said Haris, Abbas and Shan have been dropped due to inconsistent performances, adding that the PCB “will not let its investment in these talented players go to waste” and has invited them to train at High Performance Centre in Lahore.
“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.”
He said 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 further healthy competition for a permanent place in the side.”
“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,” said the chief selector. “Yasir Shah understands the pressures of international cricket and is familiar with the demands, challenges, and expectations of the purest 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.”