Pakistan have called up young pacer Mir Hamza in the 16-member squad announced for the upcoming two-match Test series against Sri Lanka in UAE. Middle-order batsmen Haris Sohail and Usman Salahuddin – uncapped in Tests – have been included to fill in the void left by the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. Leg-spinner Yasir Shah and top-order batsman Azhar Ali have been declared fit and named in the squad that consists of a total five uncapped players.
“We’re trying our youngsters, honestly,” Inzamam-ul-Haq, the chairman of selectors, told reporters on Saturday (September 23). “For the last few series we’ve tried to carry Osman Salahuddin and Haris Sohail with the side to ensure that when the seniors retire, we can include them in the side. And this is a series in UAE, so the thought process was to give the boys a chance in our home conditions so that they get the confidence, rather than sending them abroad (for debut series). If we have a chance to try them in home conditions first, I think then we should.
“Osman, for the last two years, has performed very well as a middle-order batsman. Haris Sohail – if he wasn’t struggling with an injury in 2015, he would have been the main batsman back then for Pakistan. So we’ve given them the chance thinking that these guys will be able to take over (from the seniors).”
Experienced all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez and opener Ahmed Shehzad have been overlooked. Spinner Shadab Khan, who made his national debut during Pakistan’s last Test assignment in West Indies at Bridgetown, also failed to find a place in the squad. Hafeez last played a Test match for Pakistan against England on the 2016 tour, in Birmingham, and has only featured in the limited-overs squad since then. Shehzad’s last Test was at Bridgetown and his exploits in the recently-concluded T20I series against World XI didn’t prove enough to get the selectors’ nod.
However, Shan Masood, who failed to impress in the only Test he played in West Indies, has retained his spot in the national side. “Shan Masood played only Test in West Indies and I believe if we’ve selected anyone, he should be given a proper chance. If anyone hasn’t scored well in one Test match, it wouldn’t be fair to drop him. So we’ve given Shan another chance and hopefully, he can score well.”
Inzamam also defended the panel’s decision to include five pacers for the batting-friendly conditions in the UAE. “Honestly, the pitches there have been a batting paradise. So to get an opposition out twice in a Test, you need a strong bowling side. We’ve picked five fast bowlers as well as three spinners to strengthen our overall bowling attack.
“Also, considering the extreme heat there… we’ve picked five so that we can try to rotate the fast bowlers as well.”
The former Pakistan captain believed that the squad might not have as many pacers who can consistently clock above 150 kmph as they would have liked, but it does consist of a good mix of fast-bowling options. “There are more things than just speed that matter. I think we have a good fast-bowling department. We’ve picked Mir Hamza because he has done well on these wickets in first-class cricket. He was playing well. Wahab Riaz is good with the old ball and his (bowling) speed is more than 150 kmph and that’s an advantage. Amir and Abbas were good in West Indies series. So I believe we have a good fast bowling package. Sure, we might not have many bowling so fast but we do have good bowlers in this squad.”
Inzamam clarified that Yasir’s recent track record didn’t earn him a soft spot with the selectors, who insisted on him passing the fitness test before taking a call on his inclusion. “Yasir was supposed to undergo a fitness test yesterday but he had a pulled-up calf muscle yesterday. He’s taken the test this morning and he’s been passed fit. We had already told Yasir that his selection would be subject to clearing the fitness test. There is no doubt that in the last three-four years, Yasir has taken a lot of wickets for Pakistan but we’ve tried to maintain the (fitness) standards that we’ve set for one and all. If he wouldn’t have cleared the fitness test, we wouldn’t have picked him.”
Azhar, who is nursing a knee niggle, has been included in the squad only after consultation with the doctors. “Azhar Ali has a cyst in his knee and the doctors have recommended him to play only after taking an injection. He isn’t experiencing any pain after the injections, so we’re hoping he’ll remain fit to play.”
Sri Lanka’s tour of UAE is due to start with the first Test in Abu Dhabi on September 28. The second match of the series will be Sri Lanka’s maiden day-night Test, in Dubai. The Test series will be followed by five ODIs and three T20Is, the last fixture of which is scheduled at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on October 29, subject to security clearance.
Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Sami Aslam, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Sarfraz Ahmed (c & wk), Usman Salahuddin, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Asghar, Mohammad Abbas, Bilal Asif, Mir Hamza, Wahab Riaz