LAHORE: Five uncapped players were named by national selectors on Saturday in a 16-man squad for the two-Test series against Sri Lanka starting in the UAE next week.
Off-spinner Bilal Asif, middle-order batsmen Haris Sohail and Usman Salahuddin, pace bowler Mir Hamza and slow left-arm spinner Mohammad Asghar were the new faces included in the squad announced by chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq at a press conference on Saturday.
The squad leaves for the UAE on Sunday.
The first Test will be staged from Sept 28 to Oct 2 in Abu Dhabi while the second will be held from Oct 6 to 10 in Dubai. The Test rubber will be followed by a five-match ODI series and three T20 Internationals. The last T20 is likely to be held in Lahore.
Inzamam and his selection committee members picked the squad from a list of 18 probables who had been attending a training camp at the Gaddafi Stadium since Monday.
Two members — struggling opener Ahmed Shehzad and young wicket-keeper/batsman Mohammad Rizwan — were excluded by the selectors from the list.
Azhar Ali, Yasir Shah declared fit for Sri Lanka series
Among the batsmen, there are three openers — Azhar Ali, Shan Masood and Sami Aslam; middle-order comprises seasoned Asad Shafiq, in-form Babar Azam along with young guns Haris and Usman. Captain Sarfraz Ahmed possessing a healthy batting average of 40.96 in 36 Tests can be an important element in the batting department.
Right-handed Usman, 26, has played two ODIs for Pakistan — against West Indies back in 2011 — and holds an impressive first-class batting average of 47.29. The Lahore-born batsman will have a great chance to cement his place in the Test team if he is picked in the final XI.
The 28-year-old Haris, who played his last of the 22 ODIs in May 2015 against Zimbabwe in Lahore, gets an opportunity to prove his credentials in Test cricket. The southpaw from Sialkot, who has a nice ODI average of 43.00, enjoys a healthy 52.01 first-class average.
Five seamers form the pace bowling department: Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas and Hamza.
Left-arm medium-pacer Hamza from Karachi, 25, has played 46 first-class matches capturing 216 wickets at a highly impressive average of 19.15.
The spin department is led by Yasir Shah, who cleared the fitness test on Saturday morning, and also has uncapped Bilal and Asghar for whom the UAE visit will certainly be a great learning opportunity.
Sialkot-born Bilal, who becomes 32-year-old on Sunday, with three ODIs under his belt, so far has featured in 15 first-class matches taking 38 wickets at the average of 38.00.
The 18-year-old Asghar from Killa Abdullah, who impressed many with his guile while representing Peshawar Zalmi in PSL, has claimed 70 first-class wickets in 18 matches at a decent average of 28.11, may come under the spotlight during the tour if he makes the final XI.
Meanwhile, Inzamam gave his reasons for naming eight bowlers in the 16-member squad.
“As UAE wickets are known to be batsman-friendly it will be hard to bowl out a team twice [in a Test match] and that too under 40-degree temperature currently prevailing there. We will also rotate fast bowlers to keep them fit, besides including three spinners to boost the bowling department,” Inzamam said at the presser.
The chief selector added, “Yasir was declared fit on Saturday morning from his strained calf problem as he passed the test, which was necessary to clear. Otherwise, Yasir, despite being the most successful Test bowler of Pakistan could not be selected.”
About Azhar who was suffering from a knee problem, Inzamam said the seasoned batsman was now fit.
“The doctor recommended an injection for Azhar after which the opener is quite fit now. Hopefully he will perform [well] on the tour,” Inzamam said.
The chief selector defended the selection of under-performing opener Shan.
“Shan was picked for the tour of West Indies where he played just one Test match. It is unfair to drop him after giving one Test as I believe proper chances should be given to a player before dropping him,” Inzamam said.
On Usman and Haris, the chief selector said, “We have been carrying Usman and Haris with the national team but in my mind there is a plan to test these youngsters in any home series; we think both will take off with better performance to cement their places.”
Underlining that Pakistan would be playing their very first Test series without batting heavyweights Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, Inzamam emphasised the middle-order batsmen needed to show more responsibility in the Sri Lanka series.
“Both Misbah and Younis, no doubt, were great batsmen and without them there may be some problem but hopefully our youngsters [of Test squad] will produce good show in the UAE under their captain Sarfraz,” he said.
Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Sami Aslam, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Sarfraz Ahmed (captain, wicket-keeper), Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Mir Hamza, Yasir Shah, Bilal Asif, Mohammad Asghar.
Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2017