Pakistan Cricket Team may be out of contention to reach the final of inaugural test championship, but one of the most important series is about to start for the team. For the first time since 2007, South Africa has reached Pakistan to play the test series. Most importantly, this is first visit by a SENA country (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) since the revival of International Cricket in Pakistan.
Babar Azam, new captain of the team, was supposed to be skipper in the series against New Zealand. But he injured his thumb during the training session and could not play any match. So it will be a fresh start for him and unfortunately for him, it will be at home ground, instead of playing in overseas conditions.
The new chief selector Muhammad Wasim also announced the squad for the first time, as Misbah-ul-Haq was given some relief. Earlier, he was performing the duties of both Chief Selector and Head coach but it was not going so well for him. Secondly, Misbah-ul-Haq wanted the new chief selector to monitor the performances in Pakistan, but Misbah-ul-Haq would have to travel with team for tours this year.
Muhammad Wasim announced the squad in a new way, as he explained the performances and statistics of players who were made part of the squad and also told about the omissions, as there were many players who exited after being with team for many years.
The biggest surprise was that there were 9 uncapped players named in the initial 20-man squad. But later, the 15-players will be shortlisted for the 2-match series. Among some of the prominent names, who were included in team for the first time, were top performers of domestic seasons of last few years, Kamran Ghulam, Imran Butt and Salman Ali Agha.
Kamran Ghulam broke the record for most runs in a single season of Quaid-e-Azam trophy and it would be perfect opportunity for him to make his debut in familiar conditions. Saud Shakeel, Imran Butt and Salman Ali Agha were also given an entry to the squad and would be looking to make use of the chance given to them.
Hasan Ali, who was player of the season in Quaid-e-Azam trophy also made his comeback to the team after a gap of more than a year. He was among the most promising players after 2016 PSL and shocked the world by becoming player of the tournament in 2017 Champions Trophy, by picking up 13 wickets. But his performance had started to go down after the 2018 season and he hit his lowest point in 2019 World Cup. But we saw his much improved version in QEA Trophy 2020-2021, when he led the Central Punjab team from the front and brought them back from bottom of the table to the final. He also scored a century off just 58 balls in the final against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tied the final, even though there was a time when his team needed more than 100 runs with just 2 wickets in hand.
Sajid Khan, the top wicket-taker with 67 scalps also got a call along with Yasir Shah, Muhammad Nawaz and Nauman Ali. As 4 spinners have been picked, it looks likely that 2 of them will be dropped from the final 15 man squad. Another reason is, Shadab Khan not playing the series due to the injury. But it will also be a wake-up call for Yasir Shah, who has not done so well in last 12 months, going for many wickets and picking up lesser wickets in overseas series against Australia, England and New Zealand.
Shan Masood was also shown the exit door after continuous failure. He had scored only 33 runs in last 8 innings, including 4 ducks in the process. He had also failed to score any run in last 3 innings. Muhammad Abbas also dropped from the team, although he was star performer for Pakistan in 2018 season and was expected to do well for the team in England and New Zealand, but he disappointed by not performing up to the expectations. Haris Sohail was also among the omitted players, after failing to score any fifty in overseas conditions in SENA countries, although he was given many chances to impress.
Among the happiest players who were picked for the first time, will be fast bowler Tabish Khan, who has picked over 700 wickets in domestic circuit and was still looking to be given a chance. But he may not get a test cap due to lack of pace and some other names being there, who can bowl a lot of faster than him.
Some of the inclusions did not make much sense to the cricket fans, as Abdullah Shafique was added to the team, despite playing only 1 first class match. He was given 2 matches against New Zealand and failed to score any run. Many are afraid that he failed and his confidence was shaken because he was included in the team too soon. In the same happens in test cricket, it would be very hard for him to recover again.
Haris Rauf also made the test squad, having played only 3 first class matches. Haris has proved his potential with the white ball but it cannot be said surely if he has discipline and fitness to bowl longer spells in test cricket. Plus it will also be a case of putting too much burden on him, which can result in injuries. Same was the case with Shaheen Shah Afridi and before that Muhammad Amir and Hasan Ali, who were used in all 3 formats and it resulted in the decline of their performance.
It will be a great opportunity for Pakistan anyway, to win a series against South Africa for the first time in 17 years, as they either lost or drew series against them at home, away and neutral venues. South Africa are also in a re-building process and have many new names in the side, touring Pakistan for the first time.
Writer is a sports lover, who passionately watches Cricket, Football, Tennis and especially all sports featuring Pakistan. Previously worked for 4 mainstream channels Dawn, Samaa, Dunya and 92 News in past. Currently working with GNN.