LAHORE: While leg-spinner Yasir Shah returned to the national Test squad, three uncapped players were also named by the selectors on Wednesday for Pakistan’s two-match series in Sri Lanka next month.

The 18-member Pakistan side led by Babar Azam will play the Tests in Galle and Colombo.

The 36-year-old Yasir, who gave impressive performances in the early stages of his Test career but disappeared from the scene mainly due to fitness problems, played the last of his 46 Tests against the West Indies at Kingston in August last year.

Yasir, who hails from Swabi, had an excellent tour to Sri Lanka in 2015 where he took 24 wickets at a magnificent average of 19.33 and played a crucial role in Pakistan’s 2-1 series win in a three-game series.The stocky spinner so far has claimed 235 Test wickets at 31.08.

Former Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz, 35, was retained by the Mohammad Wasim’s selection committee as the second wicket-keeper along with first-choice gloveman and vice-captain Mohammad Rizwan.

Sarfaraz, who last featured in a Test back in January 2019 when was captaining the side in Johannesburg, has been picked for the tour after rookie gloveman Mohammad Haris flopped in the recent home ODI series against the West Indies. The selectors by opting for Sarfaraz as back-up perhaps did not want to take any chance for the cut-throat five-day games.

Sarfaraz was a travelling reserve during the recent home Test series against Australia.

The players who are yet to make their Test debut and are included in the squad are pacer Haris Rauf and batters Saud Shakeel and Salman Ali Agha.

Except for 28-year-old Salman who is yet to play for Pakistan in any format, the other two campaigners have already represented the country in white-ball games.

Left-arm orthodox spinner Mohammad Nawaz, who missed Pakistan’s recent home Test series against Australia staged in March-April due to injury, was certain to regain his place in the Test team.

Off-spinner Sajid Khan, all-rounder Iftikhar Ahmad, leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood and fast bowler Mohammad Wasim Junior failed to retain their place in the Test side.

Opener Abid Ali was not selected despite recovering from a heart problem which he suffered during a first-class match in December 2021 at Karachi.

Meanwhile, chief selector Wasim said the best side has been picked according to the requirements in Sri Lanka.

“We have selected this squad considering the conditions in Sri Lanka and have equipped the team with the best possible resources,” Wasim said.

“Our spin department is boosted with the return of Yasir Shah, who proved himself a match-winner in Sri Lanka on our last tour [2015] and Sajid Khan has made the way for him. The spin department also includes two spin all-rounders in Mohammad Nawaz and Salman Ali Agha and left-arm orthodox Nauman Ali..

“Salman has shown consistent performances with the bat in the past three seasons and he is a handy off-spin option.

“Our team has recently put strong performances in Bangladesh and although results against Australia were not ideal we displayed solid cricket and for that reason we have retained the core to instill consistency and continuity and have trimmed the squad size following the relaxation in Covid-19-induced travel restrictions,” the chief selector added.

The Babar-led side will converge in Islamabad on Saturday to finalise their preparations for the Test series at the Pindi Cricket Stadium with a seven-day camp that stretches from June 26 June to July 2 before leaving for Sri Lanka on July 6.

Pakistan on the tour will play a three-day warm-up from July 11 to 13. The first Test will be played at Galle from July 16 while the second Test will be staged in Colombo from July 24.

For Pakistan, who are on the fifth spot, this series is their final away commitment of the current ICC World Test Championship cycle, which stretches from July 2021 to June 2023. Therefore, they will be eager to improve their position on the table by clinching the series.

Pakistan have played three series in the current cycle and with wins in three Tests and two draws are ranked fifth in the nine-team table.

Babar’s men levelled the two-Test series in the West Indies, defeated Bangladesh 2-0 in their second away assignment before Australia edged them out with a 1-0 victory in Pat Cummins-captained side’s historic tour of Pakistan.

In 2022-23, Pakistan are set to host England and New Zealand for three and two Tests in a bumper international season at home.

Squad: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan (vice-captain, wicket-keeper), Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Nawaz, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wicket-keeper), Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2022

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