KARACHI: Nine uncapped players were inducted on Friday in a new-look Pakistan squad for the upcoming two-match Test series against South Africa as new chief selector Mohammad Wasim wielded axe on eight members — including Shan Masood, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah — of the side that toured New Zealand recently.
Included in the 20-man party for the first time in the longest format are batsmen Kamran Ghulam, Saud Shakeel, Agha Salman and Abdullah Shafiq, who will compete with Imran Butt to partner Abid Ali at the top of the order, while spinners Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan have been picked alongside pace duo of Tabish Khan and Haris Rauf.
Hasan Ali has been recalled after the fit-again Pakistan paceman — who last played for the country during the 2019 50-over World Cup in England — had performed brilliantly while leading Central Punjab in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. All-rounder Mohammad Nawaz has also returned to the Test fold after four years in the wilderness.
Apart from Shan, Haris Sohail, Abbas and Naseem, the selectors have left out Shadab Khan, Imam-ul-Haq, Sohail Khan and Zafar Gohar with Wasim categorically saying all these players will now spend their time either at the Lahore-based National High Performance Centre or respective regional centres to work on their flaws.
Announcing the squad — that will be pruned to 16 members for the start of the opening Test at here from Jan 26 — at a crowded media conference at the National Stadium, Wasim welcomed the newcomers in an acknowledgment of being consistent performers in domestic competitions.
“These [nine] players are now just a step away from playing for Pakistan in the highest form of cricket and they have been afforded a golden chance to showcase their class and potential,” Wasim, who scored 107 on his Test debut against New Zealand at Lahore in 1996, said.
“This is just reward for their consistent performance, hard work and perseverance in what has been a difficult period because the season is being staged under strict Covid-19 protocols with players confined to bio-secure bubble environment.”
The axing of Shan and Haris was always on the cards after both left-handers endured a horrendous series in New Zealand as Pakistan lost both Tests at Mount Maunganui and Christchurch. The Kuwait-born Shan, in particular, looked far from the opener who came of age during last year’s tour of England by scoring a splendid 156 at Old Trafford.
But since that game in Manchester, Shan had reached double figures only twice in the next eight Test innings — his wretched sequence being: 0, 1, 4, 18 (against England), 10, 0, 0, 0 (in New Zealand) — while averaging a more-than-pathetic 4.12 in mustering just 33 runs.
Haris, who skipped the England series, scored mere 28 runs in four innings of the New Zealand Tests while entering double figures only once — 15 in the second innings at the Hagley Oval.
Likewise, seamer Abbas had been found wanting in the wicket-taking column, starting from the home series against Sri Lanka in December 2019 to the New Zealand tour, claiming just 18 wickets across six Tests despite still averaging 22.80 for his overall haul of 84 wickets in 23 matches.
Naseem, the youngest to claim a Test hat-trick (against Bangladesh at Rawalpindi last February), had picked up just six wickets in his last five Tests. According to Wasim, the 17-year-old paceman had been sidelined over fitness issues.
“My message to all of them not selected for the South Africa series is: improve their levels of performance and fitness while working out their technical flaws and get back into contention,” Wasim stated.
“It is obvious that both Shan and Haris have been dropped because of their inferior showing in recent series. Moreover, the omission of Shan has opened doors for either Imran Butt or Abdullah Shafiq to partner Abid Ali. Imran had an outstanding season in 2019-20 during which he scored more than 900  runs, while Abdullah may have played just one first-class match [scoring 133 on debut] but has the talent to succeed in red-ball cricket. Both these youngsters were members of the Pakistan Shaheens squad in New Zealand recently.
“Naseem certainly has fitness problems and the same applies to Shadab. We expect them to regain top fitness as soon as possible.
“The bowlers we have picked were considered on form and consistency. Tabish and Haris Rauf have been picked for different reasons. Tabish had been performing season after season [364 first-class wickets over past five seasons at 22.80 with a strike-rate of 43.92 balls per wicket]. Regardless of his age , he has been preferred over Sohail Khan since he is more effective in our conditions.
“Haris may not have played much at the first-class level [three matches] but we feel that he is someone with the X-factor. How many bowlers in Pakistan are clocking 150kph regularly? Haris has the ability to reverse swing in our conditions and is not afraid to bowl bouncers,” Wasim remarked.
“Kamran Ghulam [record tally of 1,249 runs in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy], Saud Shakeel [970 runs] and Agha Salman [941 runs] all merited call-ups as do [34-year-old slow left-armer from Sanghar] Nauman Ali [61 first-class wickets this season] and [off-spinner] Sajid Khan [season’s leading wicket-taker with 67 victims at 25.08].
“It would have been easy for us to overlook Yasir Shah [14 wickets across last four Tests] and go for another leg-spinner in Zahid Mahmood. But we think it is very risky to blood a couple of uncapped spinners in the same playing XI against a very good South Africa team. Yasir gets the nod purely for his experience [227 wickets from 43 Tests] of international cricket and for the fact that he is familiar with the home conditions,” Wasim added.
The second Test of the South Africa series will be played at Rawalpindi from Feb 4 to 8, followed by three Twenty20 Internationals in Lahore, with the selectors set to name that squad before the final Test.
Openers: Abid Ali (Central Punjab), Abdullah Shafiq (Central Punjab), Imran Butt (Balochistan); Middle-order batsmen: Azhar Ali (Central Punjab), Babar Azam (captain, Central Punjab), Fawad Alam (Sindh), Kamran Ghulam (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Agha Salman (Southern Punjab), Saud Shakeel (Sindh);
All-rounders: Faheem Ashraf (Central Punjab), Mohammad Nawaz (Northern); Wicket-keepers: Mohammad Rizwan (vice-captain, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,
Sarfaraz Ahmed (Sindh); Spinners: Nauman Ali (Northern), Sajid Khan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Yasir Shah (Balochistan); Fast bowlers: Haris Rauf (Northern), Hasan Ali (Central Punjab), Shaheen Shah Afridi (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Tabish Khan (Sindh).
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2021