LAHORE: Former captain Sarfraz Ahmed and uncapped batsman Haider Ali were the major inclusions when Pakistan chief selector-cum-head coach Misbah-ul-Haq announced on Friday an expanded 29-member squad for the three Tests and as many T20 Internationals against England.
Also returning to the national side is the aging Sohail Khan, the 36-year-old who last played at the highest level against Australia at Melbourne in December 2016 in a 10-man pace battery for the tour which will take place in bio-secure environment behind closed doors due to the prevailing novel coronavirus pandemic.
Sarfraz, who was the all-format Pakistan captain until he lost the job following the 3-0 thrashing against Sri Lanka in the Tweny20 International series last October, is being picked as backup to wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan.
“We should not consider runs while picking up a wicket-keeper and as Sarfraz has the experience of doing keeping in England on previous tours. So he is the best second option available,” Misbah said after being queried the 32-year-old had an average season since being sidelined from the Pakistan side.
Teenaged batting sensation Haider, who played in the ICC Under-19 World Cup in South Africa earlier this year, has made rapid strides to make the cut at the senior level. The right-hander also excelled in his debut Pakistan Super league season for Peshawar Zalmi during February and March.
Sohail Khan also returns after three years in wilderness
According to Misbah, Sohail has been selected chiefly because of two five-fors during the 2016 England Test series. Sohail’s induction meant there was no place for young Musa Khan who made his international debut during the Australia tour late last year.
“As we have to play top-level cricket for two months, we thought an experienced like Sohail Khan will strengthen the pace attack, which otherwise comprises youngsters [Shaheen Shah Afridi, Nasim Shah, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain] who all are doing well in different formats,” Misbah said. “The series is tough and England will also have the added advantage of playing against the West Indies before we play the hosts.
“We mustn’t forget these are unusual circumstances and beyond our control. We are trying to gain control to a maximum level. The players understand the challenges and they are ready for it and Allah will help out us.
“At the same time our players will be playing cricket after three months lay-off, they will be fresh and hungry for the game. Sometime you burnt your energies due to playing constant cricket and a break such as this one helps you a lot to play with fresh mind and new zeal.”
Explaining the logic behind naming 29 players for the tour, Misbah said: “We have selected an usually big squad because we have to play practice matches as well as setting up a long training camp in England. Further if there is any Covid-19 positive case, we need a fair number of options readily available.”
Misbah also negated the impression that Mohammad Amir had deliberately skipped the series because of not getting the central contract. “It is clear that Amir is unavailable because of family duty and there is no other reason for him to skip the T20 series.”
Meanwhile, the selectors also named four standbys in off-spinner Bilal Asif, opener Ahsan Ali, all-rounder Amad Butt and leg-spinner Usman Qadir, who were all selected in the last series against Bangladesh.
Commenting on the overall selections, Misbah stressed Pakistan will all their bases covered. “If you look at the squad it has good mixture of experience and young talent. Haider Ali, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain would surely good opportunities to play cricket in England after attending the training camp. They have the chance to groom themselves as Test cricketers, too.
“Moreover, someone like Fawad Alam can force his way into the Test XI, given his vast experience at the first-class level in domestic cricket.”
The head coach said final formation of the playing XI would be made after watching the conditions in England and the series between England and the West Indies would also help the team management to prepare a better strategy.
He said both Test and T20 series are important because victory in the red-ball series could make Pakistan strong contenders in the ICC Test Championship race, while win in the T20 series would boost the team’s morale for the T20 World Cup, that is scheduled for Australia later in the year.
In the meantime Misbah welcomed Younis Khan as the batting coach for the tour of England.
“Younis coming in as the batting coach is a good sign for me and the team too because we had played a lot of international cricket together and players like Azhar Ali, Shan Masood and Asad Shafiq had excellent rapport with Younis. He knows the psyche and technique of everyone and his presence as coach and mentor will be morale boosting for the players,” he said. “Younis is a hard worker and will always give 100 percent. We need people like him and [spin bowling coach] Mushtaq Ahmed to share the workload in a better way.”
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), meanwhile, is still waiting for details from their English counterparts about team’s travel plans. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has undertaken responsibility of arranging a chartered flight for the visiting squad, which earlier was expected to leave for London in July. But the PCB are contemplating reaching England by end of June after failing to hold training camp in Lahore.
Squad: Azhar Ali (Test captain), Babar Azam (Test vice-captain/T20 captain), Asad Shafiq, Abid Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Fawad Alam, Haider Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfraz Ahmed, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Imran Khan, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Hasnain, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Sohail Khan, Usman Khan Shinwari, Wahab Riaz, Imad Wasim, Kashif Bhatti, Shadab Khan, Yasir Shah.
Misbah-ul-Haq (head coach), Mansoor Rana (team manager), Waqar Younis (bowling coach), Younis Khan (batting coach), Mushtaq Ahmed (spin bowling coach), Shahid Aslam (assistant to head coach), Abdul Majeed (fielding coach), Yasir Malik (strength and conditioning coach), Cliffe Deacon (physiotherapist), Dr Sohail Saleem (team doctor), Talha Butt (video analyst), Malang Ali (masseur), Raza Rashid (media manager), retired Colonel Usman Riffat Anwari (security manager).
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2020