After a brief hiatus from the national side, Mohammad Amir returns to Pakistan‘s Test squad for an away three-match Test series against South Africa that commences with a boxing Day Test at Centurion. The 16-member squad which “has been selected keeping in mind the conditions in South Africa” also includes Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, and Mohammad Rizwan. Bilal Asif, Mir Hamza and Saad Ali – all part of Pakistan’s squad during the just-concluded series against New Zealand – were dropped from the squad.
After attracting much criticism for his failure to pick a wicket across 18 overs in three Asia Cup matches in September, Amir, who has only three ODI wickets at an average of over 100 this year, returned to domestic cricket to rediscover his mojo. He turned out in four first-class and two List A matches for Sui Southern Gas Company, taking 23 scalps, which in turn included two five-wicket hauls.
With Mohammad Abbas in the set-up, Amir’s inclusion is bound to strengthen Pakistan’s pace attack in South Africa’s largely favourable seam-bowling conditions. Initially, Abbas, who Dale Steyn predicted will secure the No.1 spot in Tests while he was ripping apart Australia’s batting line-up, was doubtful for the series with a shoulder injury. He was ruled out of the third Test versus New Zealand which had shaped into a series-decider. Abbas has been detrimental to opposition batting plans all over the globe since his debut in April 2017. He enjoys a phenomenal 16.62 Test average and has been Pakistan’s most successful pace bowler of late.
Zaman and Shadab, who missed the for the first two New Zealand Tests due to knee and groin injuries respectively, have also been recalled. The duo was handed a two-week rehabilitation programme after the limited-overs leg of the New Zealand series. Initially, they were expected to return for the third Test at Abu Dhabi, but Pakistan retained the same squad.
Zaman, who made an impressive Test debut against Australia in October with 94 and 68, was doubtful for the tour. He was expected to miss three to five weeks of action due to his rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore. Zaman is one of the three openers, with the other two being Imam ul Haq and Shan Masood – selected after Mohammad Hafeez’s retirement.
Rizwan, who is currently leading Pakistan in the Emerging Asia Cup, has been rewarded for his consistent performances for Pakistan ‘A’ of late. The 26-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman scored 255 runs at a staggering average of 255, which included two unbeaten tons, versus New Zealand ‘A’ in the One-Day series.
For the second time this year, Saad, a 25-year-old top-order batsman, was dropped from the squad without been given a match. He was the highest run scorer for Pakistan in the 2017-18 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy season and was duly taken to Ireland and England for three Tests. But, he was then dropped for Pakistan’s first ‘home’ series against Australia this season. He was recalled for the New Zealand series but was released on the day of the last Test after being named in the Pakistan Under-23 squad.
With Pakistan expected to play a solitary spinner in South Africa, they have dropped Bilal, who picked up the second five-wicket haul of his career on the second day of the third Test versus New Zealand.
“The best possible squad has been selected keeping in mind the conditions of South Africa,” said chairman of selection committee Inzamam-ul-Haq. “Three openers have been selected in the squad where Shan Masood has been selected after the retirement of Mohammad Hafeez from Test cricket. Mohammad Amir makes a comeback in the team after regaining his form in the domestic cricket, giving strength to fast bowling attack that includes four pace bowlers. Mohammad Rizwan has been included in the squad after performing consistently in the domestic cricket and for Pakistan ‘A’.”
The second and third Tests will begin on January 3 and 11 at Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Pakistan squad for South Africa Tests: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfaraz Ahmed (C, Wk), Md Rizwan, Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan, Md Abbas, Hassan Ali, Md Amir, Faheem Ashraf, Shaheen Afridi