LAHORE: Following the removal of Sarfraz Ahmed as the Pakistan Test and T20 International captain, the national side’s chief selector cum-head coach Misbah-ul-Haq named new-look squads for the team’s upcoming tour to Australia.
Pakistan play the Aussies in three T20s — the first on November 3 — and two Test matches later next month.
“A series against Australia has always been a challenging one for us even in our playing days. As the world recognizes the performances of the players given on Australia, England and South African soils, we will hopefully play good, aggressive and competitive cricket as it is lone way to beat Australia with aggressive cricket,” Misbah said in a press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Monday.
In the T20 side, set to be lead by middle-order batsman Babar Azam, left-handed batsman Khushdil Shah, pacer Musa Khan and leg-spinner Usman Qadir are the notable inclusions.
More surprisingly, though, 37-year-old lanky left-armer Mohammad Irfan has also made a comeback to the national side after three years.
Batsmen Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, who were controversial picks in the recent disastrous T20 white-wash of Pakistan by Sri Lanka at home, have yet again faced the axe.
The Test team, skippered by veteran Azhar Ali, also features a host of new names and it is clear that Misbah is looking up to the youngsters to form the core of a team which will kick off its World Test Championship campaign on a tough tour Down Under.
Opener Abid Ali, who has an impressice record of 7000 runs in 104 first-class matches, has finally made it to the Pakistan Test side. The right-hander from Lahore also boasts a hundred against Australia in the first of his four One-day International outings.
Along with Abid, pacers Nasim Shah and Musa have also made the grade for the longest format while slow-left armer Kashif Bhatti has also been named for the what will be a challenging tour for Pakistan.
The 33-year-old Kashif has taken 10 wickets in the current first-class season, while in an 83-match first-class career he boasts 327 wickets.
With Sarfraz out, Mohammad Rizwan will keep wickets for the national side in both series and will be expected to have secured that role for a long run now.
The right-hander has maintained decent record with the bat in domestic cricket and Pakistan ‘A’ team matches in the last two years. Iftikhar Ahmed has also earned a place in the team after showing consistent form in the domestic circuit.
The Pakistan pace attack will be lead by Mohammad Abbas and Shaheen Shah Afridi, who comes back into the team after a long break due to illness.
Imran Khan Sr., who last played a Test match in 2017 — against Australia under Misbah’s captaincy — has also been called up. Fast bowler Hasan Ali is out due to injury.
“Strategy is also to include surprise package to surprise the Aussies, so, we included some players who are young and excited like Nasim and Musa, as their pace and attitude towards fast bowling are treat to watch,” Misbah said.
“My message is clear that we will give chance to youngsters with a belief they are our future. If you want to perform against Australia it is game of fire against fire so you need that kind of bowlers and talent to challenge them,” added the former Pakistan skipper.
The 19-year-old Musa from Islamabad has played seven first-class matches in which he has taken 17 wickets, while Lahore’s 16-year-old Naseem has also claimed 17 wickets in five matches.
Qadir’s selection for the T20s is also an interesting one. The former Pakistan leg-spinner Abdul Qadir’s son had been eyeing an opportunity to represent Australia instead. Also, Misbah had said recently that Qadir was not an option because he was not playing domestic cricket in Pakistan.
However, the chief selector had a different analysis about Qadir after naming him in the squad.
“Usman is playing T20 cricket and there is a spark in his bowling. He has experience of playing in Australia in the Big Bash and offers variation. He may prove to be a good back up for wrist spinner Shadab Khan,” said Misbah.
Misbah said former captain Sarfraz can stage a comeback to the national side if he puts up good performances in the ongoing domestic season. The head coach said removing the wicket-keeper/batsman as skipper was a difficult decision and was taken after lengthy meeting with Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani and CEO Wasim Khan.
“It is very simple and straight forward way for Sarfaraz to stage a comeback after showing performances in the domestic season. Sarfaraz has served Pakistan cricket a lot and as captain his contribution is also enough for Pakistan cricket. We always backed Sarfaraz as he done many things good for Pakistan but his recent form was the reason behind the decision against him,” said the 45-year-old.
T20I squad: Babar Azam (captain), Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Rizwan (wicket-keeper), Musa Khan, Shadab Khan, Usman Qadir, Wahab Riaz.
Test squad: Azhar Ali (captain), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan Sr., Iftikhar Ahmed, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan (wicket-keeper), Musa Khan, Nasim Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah.
Oct. 31: T20 warm-up match vs CA XI (Bankstown, Sydney).
Nov. 3: First T20I (Sydney).
Nov. 5: Second T20I (Canberra).
Nov. 8: Third T20I (Perth).
Nov. 11-13: Three-day match vs CA XI (Optus Stadium, Perth; d/n).
Nov. 15-16: Two-day match vs CA XI (WACA, Perth).
Nov. 21-25: First Test (Brisbane).
Nov. 29-Dec. 3: Second Test (Adelaide; d/n).
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2019