PAKISTAN’S T20 skipper Babar Azam (L) and head coach-cum-chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq attend a press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday.—M. Arif/White Star
PAKISTAN’S T20 skipper Babar Azam (L) and head coach-cum-chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq attend a press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday.—M. Arif/White Star

LAHORE: Discarded veteran all-rounders Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik were the surprise recalls while three uncapped players were also named by the national selectors in the 15-member squad announced on Thursday for the three-match T20 home series against Bangladesh, to be held at the Gaddafi Stadium from Jan 24-27.

The team, which showed six changes from the squad that had toured Australia early last month, was announced by chief selector-cum-head coach Misbah-ul-Haq in a crowded press conference. He was flanked by T20 captain Babar Azam and coordinator of the selection committee Nadeem Khan.

The uncapped players named in the squad are Ahsan Ali, Ammad Butt and Haris Rauf while the three front-line pacers — Muhammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan Senior along with openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq, middle-order batsmen Haris Sohail and Asif Ali have been axed.

“We have selected a team which is a blend of young and experienced players with an aim to end our losing streak in the T20s and get back to the winning habits. This factor has played a crucial role in our decision-making,” said Misbah at the presser.

However, when asked why he had recalled the discarded duo of Malik and Hafeez for the BD series when a similar decision of his to recall Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal had backfired against a young Sri Lankan side in November, Misbah said: “I believe both Hafeez and Malik still have plenty to offer. Though they were not part of the team in the past but we felt their absence.

Uncapped Ahsan, Ammad and Haris named in 15-member squad

“We have to do these experiments till the time we select our best team. We have the opportunity to go for these experiments since the World Cup is still quite far off. Yes, in the previous Sri Lanka we could not achieve the desired results, but there is no need to be afraid of making experiments,” he said.

“We tried different combinations in the series against Sri Lanka and Australia and they didn’t work the way we had expected,” observed Misbah. “Hafeez and Malik bring a total of 200 T20Is between them to the team and if you mix these with the youngsters we have in the side, then I think it becomes a good blend of experience and youth,” he said.

“The high-pressure HBL Pakistan Super League is starting in four weeks’ time and if Malik and Hafeez can reclaim their winning form, then they will be back in contention for the upcoming assignments including the Asia Cup and ICC Men’s T20 World Cup,” added Misbah.

“The matches against Bangladesh are part of our preparation in finding the right combination and building up for the two major tournaments ahead. The return of Hafeez, Malik and Shaheen Afridi gives us the experience and depth while the exuberance of Ahsan Ali, Ammad Butt and Haris Rauf gives the team more firepower, energy and all-round skill,” he elaborated.

Babar also welcomed the comeback of Malik and Hafeez, saying he had his input in the team’s selection and the think-tank tried it best to select a best combination of senior and junior players to get back on the winning track.

While facing a barrage of questions regarding the axing of a good number of players, Misbah had a similar reply to make: “All the players are on the radars and we have not ignored anyone forever. We will give chances to the players whenever we will need them,” he said.

The 26-year-old Ahsan scored 131 runs in five matches at a strike-rate of under 149 at the National T20 Cup in Faisalabad in October after scoring

178 at a strike-rate of over 130 for Quetta Gladiators in the HBL PSL 2019 and that made a strong case for his selection against Bangladesh.

And the 24-year-old all-rounder Ammad scored 80 runs at a strike-rate of 170 and also took 10 wickets at an economy-rate of 7.62 in the Faisalabad event.

As for the 26-year-old Haris, who took six wickets in the Faisalabad event, selected himself after emerging as the second leading wicket-taker in Australia’s Big Bash League with 16 wickets.

Pakistan have lost eight T20 matches out of 10 that it has played in last 12 months. However, despite this pathetic performance, Pakistan is still holds the world number one position in this format in the ICC rankings.

To a question, Misbah said former captain Sarfraz Ahmed had regained fitness level to a remarkable level and the selectors would closely look at his performance in the upcoming PSL. “After the PSL, we would be in a better position to give final shape to the T20 World Cup squad which is slated to be held in Australia in October this year.

Babar also hailed the selection of the three uncapped players and said: “Ahsan, Ammad and Haris have recently shown promise and talent, and I think it is the right time to throw them at the deep end to check their ability to perform at the international level. I am sure home crowd and conditions will complement their talent and they will be able to justify their selections.”

Squad for T20Is: Babar Azam (captain) (Central Punjab), Ahsan Ali (Sindh), Amad Butt (Balochistan), Haris Rauf (Northern), Iftikhar Ahmed (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Imad Wasim (Northern), Khushdil Shah (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Mohammad Hafeez (Southern Punjab), Mohammad Hasnain (Sindh), Mohammad Rizwan (wicketkeeper) (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Musa Khan (Northern), Shadab Khan (Northern), Shaheen Shah Afridi (Northern), Shoaib Malik (Southern Punjab), Usman Qadir (Central Punjab). Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2020