Pakistan made a few surprises in naming their 18-player squad to take on England in a three-match series on home soil next month and we take a look at some of the key talking points from the selection table.
The series is crucial for Pakistan as they attempt to stay in touch with the leading teams, finish in the top two, and earn a place in next year’s World Test Championship final.
Pakistan currently sits in fifth place on the World Test Championship table with a win-percentage of 51.85 and still have five Tests remaining during this World Test Championship period – three in this series against England and then three against New Zealand over the New Year – to try and earn a spot at next year’s final at The Oval.
Yasir Shah on the outer again as mystery spinner set to be unveiled
Yasir Shah has been a great servant of Pakistan cricket – he has the fifth most Test wickets for the country – but it appears selectors may be looking for his successor after the 36-year-old was overlooked for the series against England.
The selection of uncapped leg-spinner Abrar Ahmed is risky, but a move that could pay handsome dividends judging on his ability to confuse batters with his mixture of leg-spin and wrong-uns.
Ahmed may only have 13 first-class matches to his name, but the 24-year-old has a total of 76 wickets at an average just north of 25 to go with his impressive record and on recent form looks a solid selection.
While Mohammad Nawaz and Nauman Ali are likely to be the two main spinners for Pakistan’s series, Ahmed will provide skipper Babar Azam with another option should conditions suit the slower bowlers.
With Shaheen Afridi missing, its time for Haris Rauf to shine
Pakistan’s fears were confirmed when star pacer Shaheen Afridi was left out of the 18-player squad due to his ongoing knee injury, but it may work out to be a blessing in disguise if fellow quick Haris Rauf can translate his white-ball form into the Test arena.
It is somewhat surprising to find out that Rauf has never played a Test match for his country, but at 29 years of age there is still time for the star right-armer to make an impact in the longest format.
Pakistan still have a bevy of quality quicks in their squad – even in the absence of Afridi – with the likes of Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Naseem Shah and Rauf likely to battle it out for two or possible three pace spots each Test.
Rauf’s ability to swing the old ball could be a weapon that Babar will look to utilise as it is worth remembering that Australia pacers Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins were highly effective in using reverse swing during the three-match series in Pakistan earlier this year.
Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (capt), Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shan Masood, Saud Shakeel, Salman Agha, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Abdullah Shafique, Imam-ul-Haq, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Abrar Ahmed, Zahid Mahmood, Mohammad Nawaz, Azhar Ali, Mohammad Ali.
Minimal change to settled batting line-up
Pakistan’s top-order looks well settled and ready to score plenty of runs, with impressive duo Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq almost certain to reacquaint themselves as openers for the first Test of the series in Rawalpindi.
Azhar Ali and Babar will then most likely bat at numbers three and four, with the only notable batting absentee from the squad being talented left-hander Fawad Alam.
Fawad only managed 33 runs from four hits against Australia earlier in the year. Selectors have moved on from the 37-year-old and may give talented all-rounder Shan Masood another opportunity to show his capabilities in the middle order.
Sarfaraz surprise gives Pakistan options
While ultra-reliable wicketkeeper-batter Mohammad Rizwan is an automatic selection in Pakistan’s XI, including former captain Sarfaraz Ahmed in the squad raises some eyebrows.
Sarfaraz hasn’t played a Test since he featured against South Africa in Johannesburg at the start of 2019, but the 35-year-old has been in great form with the bat recently in domestic cricket in Pakistan.
The dogged right-hander is fresh from a century for Sindh in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and has already amassed 394 runs in that competition this year at an average of almost 44.
Potentially Sarfaraz or Rizwan could play as a specialist batter. It will be interesting to see if selectors have a particular role they are looking at for Sarfaraz or if they are just keen to have his experience around the squad during such a pivotal series.