Batsmen Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Usman Salahuddin and Saad Alireceived maiden Test call-ups as Pakistan named a 16-man squad for the tour to England and Ireland in May. As expected, there was no place for fast bowler Wahab Riaz, while Shan Masood, the leading run-scorer in the recently concluded Regional One-Day Cup, has been ruled out with a knee injury.
It is a squad that contains a notably large batting contingent, with youth more prevalent than experience – all told, as many as five players could be in line for their Test debuts over the three games, with three others having played a combined five Test matches. The absence of Yasir Shah meant Pakistan brought in Shadab Khan, who, within a year, has become the leading spinner for the side in limited-overs cricket, but has played only a solitary Test so far.
“Yasir’s absence is a big loss for us,” chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said. “If we look at his numbers for the last two years, he has more wickets than any other bowler for Pakistan. He was our strike bowler, all the games we’ve won he played a big part in. I hope he recovers quickly from his injury because we have some big home Test series coming up after this series too, and we will need him in the UAE.”
Haris Sohail, who retains his place after he made his debut in the home series loss against Sri Lanka last year, may also find himself in a crucial all-round role with his part-time spin. Other than Shadab, he is the only player in the squad capable of providing a spin option of any potency, and may find himself being turned to if Pakistan are to avoid overburdening Shadab.
Saad Ali’s inclusion is notable for the reason he’s the only player in the squad selected purely on the basis of his Quaid-e-Azam trophy form, Pakistan’s beleaguered premier first-class competition. In the previous season, he was the best batsman in the competition by a distance, scoring 935 runs at an average of 68.35. No one else scored more than 735 runs or averaged greater than 50 in a season noted for its low scores and bowler-friendly pitches.
Fakhar Zaman’s Test inclusion may look out of place, given his reputation as a dasher, but he had initially come to prominence for his first-class performance in the 2016-17 season, when he scored 663 runs at 51, including a best of 170 in the final. That he scored those runs at a strike rate of 54 suggests a capacity to call upon powers of concentration he will certainly need should he get game time on this tour. With Sami Aslam having narrowly passed his fitness test after the training camp, there is every chance an opening slot could open up
Sarfraz Ahmed (capt &wk), Azhar Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Sami Aslam, Haris Sohail, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Saad Ali, Asad Shafiq, Usman Salahuddin, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali,Rahat Ali, Faheem Ashraf
“We’ve kept two things in focus when deciding on the final touring squad for England,” Inzamam said. “One, we’ve tried to strengthen our batting line-up. Secondly, we’ve borne in mind that the World Cup next year is in England. So we’ve decided to call up several young players to give them exposure to those conditions. This is a great opportunity for us, particularly our batsmen to gain experience in this conditions.”
Fawad Alam, who had another stellar first-class season, found no place in the final squad, even though he was named in the preliminary group of 25. The left-hander’s performance had dipped this season compared to the previous three when he averaged 55, 56 and 72 without catching the eye of the national selectors. Even so, he was the sixth-highest scorer in the competition, with 570 runs at just under 41.
There are few surprises in the bowling department. After coach Mickey Arthur’s comments last week made clear his displeasure with Wahab Riaz, it was inevitable he wouldn’t feature on this tour. Rahat Ali made a comeback into the squad, with Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Abbas and Hasan Ali, who has only played two Tests and is considered more of a limited-overs specialist. Allrounder Faheem Ashraf seems certain to make his debut, his ever-improving bowling meaning Pakistan will look to him to balance their line-up.
The 16-man squad will convene again on Wednesday to begin preparations for the tour. Pakistan begin the tour on May 11 by taking part in Ireland’s first ever Test match. They then go on to play a two-match series against England at Lord’s on May 24 and Leeds on June 1.