PAKISTAN chief selector Wahab Riaz attends a news conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Monday.—M.Arif/White Star
PAKISTAN chief selector Wahab Riaz attends a news conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Monday.—M.Arif/White Star

LAHORE: Pakistan will have their fast-bowling resources beefed up for the upcoming three-match Test tour to Australia with seven pacers named in the 18-member national team squad, which was announced by newly-appointed chief selector Wahab Riaz on Monday.

The tour, which starts on December 14 in Perth, will be Shan Masood’s first assignment as Pakistan’s Test captain after he replaced Babar Azam, who stepped down as the all-format skipper following the team’s dismal performance in the World Cup.

The coaching staff – which is yet to be named — will be led by former skipper Mohammad Hafeez, who was appointed as team director in place of Mickey Arthur after the 50-over showpiece.

The pace battery at Shan’s disposal will include an uncapped player in right-armer Khurram Shehzad, the highest wicket-taker of the recently-concluded Quaid-e-Azam Trophy — Pakistan’s premier first class tournament — with 36 scalps. Mir Hamza, second to Khurram in the Trophy’s bowling leaderboard with 32 victims, also makes yet another return to the national side.

Hamza will double up Pakistan’s left-arm options with pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi leading the pack, depleted by the absence of Naseem Shah, who is recovering from a shoulder injury. The experienced Hasan Ali will most likely fill up Naseem’s vacant spot, while bowling all-rounders Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Wasim and Aamer Jamal will also be available for selection.

“The squad has been assembled keeping in mind the challenging Australian conditions,” Wahab said in a statement on Monday. “We have kept the pitches in mind and added more pace bowling resources to the team to ensure that the management can be flexible with the team combinations in all three Test matches.”

Pakistan wanted to add more experience — of white-ball cricket nonetheless — to their attack by calling up express pacer Haris Rauf, but according to Wahab, the right-armer turned the opportunity down fearing potential injuries.

“Haris Rauf was initially picked for the tour but he refused to partake in the upcoming tour, citing workload concerns,” the selector said during a press conference here at the Gaddafi Stadium

Wahab claimed Haris was given the assurance that he would not be put through over exertion during the series, but that wasn’t satisfactory enough for the latter.

“We had planned to utilise Haris Rauf as an impact bowler in our Test plans, after discussions with the captain and team director,” he said. “We needed him to bowl 10-15 overs, which he has bowled in ODIs too.

“We had involved all relevant stakeholders in our discussions and it was made clear that there would not be any added threat of injury if he bowls as per our plans. However, Haris was concerned about his workload and opted to back out of the series.”

While Pakistan have stuck with spinners Abrar Ahmed and Noman Ali — who gave match-winning performances in the side’s 2-0 drubbing of Sri Lanka in July — they have given promising opener Saim Ayub an opportunity to travel with the team to Australia.

Although Saim in unlikely to break through into Pakistan’s top-order comprising Abdullah Shafique, Imam-ul-Haq and Shan, his selection stands justified by the 553 runs he scored across just eight innings in the Quaid Trophy, which included a match-winning double century in the final. The 21-year-old attacking left-hander is seen as one of the top prospects for Pakistan across all three formats.

“Saim Ayub is an impact player,” said Wahab. “I feel that the tour will really help his game by providing him the relevant exposure and hopefully when he gets to play, he will deliver as he has in the past.”

Babar, Saud Shakil and Salman Ali Agha will make up Pakistan’s middle-order while one of Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Rizwan will carry out the wicket-keeping duties. Uncapped batter Mohammad Huraira, along with Saim will add depth to the squad.

Pakistan will undergo a preparatory training camp for the tour from November 23-28 in Rawalpindi. The camp will also be utilised to help the likes of white-ball experts Shadab Khan, Usama Mir and Mohammad Nawaz improve their techniques. Other than the three spinners, Arshad Iqbal, Kashif Ali, Shahnawaz Dahani and Usman Qadir have also been called up to attend the camp.

“We want to increase our pool of players available in each format,” Wahab said. “We had not prepared backups which became glaringly obvious in the World Cup but going forward, we want to implement a rotation policy as well across formats.

“We want to give players as much game time and preparation as we can so we can maximise our available resources at any given time. We are eying the T20 World Cup next year and we do not want to depend on just two or three players in the tournament.”

Pakistan are set to fly to Australia on November 30 to make their first attempt at winning a Test match Down Under since 1995. The Shan-led side, however, have had a flying start to their ICC World Test Championship 2023-25 cycle with two wins against Sri Lanka.

Squad: Shan Masood (captain), Aamer Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim, Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Agha Salman, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi.

Schedule:

December 14-18: First Test, Perth

December 26-30: Second Test, Melbourne

January 3-7: Third Test, Sydney

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2023

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