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October 22, 2019

Misbah brings in new faces as Pakistan undergo overhaul


October 22, 2019

KARACHI: There are quite a few surprises in Pakistan’s Test and T20I squads for the upcoming tour of Australia.

However, the absence of sacked captain Sarfraz Ahmed from both the squads, isn’t one of them. Announced on Monday by head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s Test squad includes three teenage pacers including the uncapped duo of Musa Khan and Naseem Shah.

But the infusion of young blood comes with the contradictory return of 37-year-old Mohammad Irfan, who was previously deemed unfit for international cricket. The tall left-armer is back in the team for the first time in more than three years. According to Misbah, Irfan has been brought back with an eye on the T20 World Cup to be played next October, also in Australia.

Misbah claimed that with the addition of young players like 16-year-old Naseem in the squad, Pakistan have switched to attack mode. “We know that Australia will present different and exciting challenges for us. There is a need to play a different type of cricket, the balance of the squads is reflective of us having options to play aggressive, attacking cricket,” Misbah said.

The two-Test assignment against Australia starting in Brisbane from November 21 will serve as Pakistan’s debut in the World Test Championship.

Azhar Ali, who has taken over from axed captain Sarfraz Ahmed, will have a relatively inexperienced pace attack against a strong Australian batting line-up. Mohammad Abbas, with 14 Tests, is the most experienced member of the pace battery which includes Imran Khan, who has been recalled after playing his ninth and final Test in Sydney in January 2017.

Misbah sees Musa and Naseem as his secret weapons but their track record doesn’t really reflect it. Musa, 19, has played seven first-class matches in which he has taken 17 wickets, while Naseem has also claimed 17 wickets in five first-class games.

“Yes it’s a brave and bold decision to select the likes of Musa and Naseem, but we know that their fresh and attacking approach will give us something different. The Australian wickets will give them the opportunity to express themselves, gain valuable experience and it will help us to take 20 wickets to win the Tests,” said Misbah.

“I am pretty sure these two lads will surprise a lot of people with their pace, controlled swing and ability to bowl long spells at a consistent speed.

“Abbas’s calibre and prowess is very well documented, while Shaheen Shah Afridi has already shown the world that he is a star in the making. Imran Khan has been drafted in the side as he provides backup experience with Abbas and he is one of the most effective exponents of the new ball, while he can regularly bowl at a good pace,” he said.

Sarfraz, who was unceremoniously removed as captain following the T20 series loss against Sri Lanka, has been replaced in the Test and T20I formats by Mohammad Rizwan.

Prolific batsman Fawad Alam was ignored yet again as Misbah opted for Iftikhar Ahmed, who has been recalled for Test duty after his only Test against England at The Oval in 2016.

Seasoned left-arm spinner Kashif Bhatti, who is the fifth-highest wicket-taker in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy this year, was also a surprise inclusion in the 16-man Test squad.

“Besides adding speed and venom in our pace attack, we have strengthened our spin department by including an experienced Kashif Bhatti to support Yasir Shah. Yasir has matured and gained experience since his last tour to Australia, and he remains our most successful bowler in the Test format. We know he can deliver and will continue to back him to deliver the goods,” said Misbah.

Misbah has picked uncapped opener Abid Ali, who has scored 7,000 first-class runs in 104 matches, including 300 runs in the two Quaid-e-Azam Trophy matches to date, in the Test squad.

“Our Test batting is experienced, talented and pretty settled, so, we have not tweaked it much, except including prolific Abid Ali in place of Fakhar Zaman and adding Iftikhar Ahmed, who can also bowl off-spin. We have a strong batting line that we expect to perform in the two Tests.

The players who have been left out of the Test squad include the injured Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman and Shadab Khan. Left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir has retired from red-ball cricket.

The biggest surprise in the T20 squad was the inclusion of Usman Qadir, the 26-year-old who was previously nowhere on the selectors’ radar. Snubbed time and again in Pakistan, Usman last year declared that his aim was to represent Australia. However, Misbah is of the view that Usman’s experience of playing in Australia will be useful for his team.

In the T20 squad, the duo of Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal have been dropped along with Faheem Ashraf and Mohammad Nawaz.

The young Musa has also been selected for the 20-over format and will join Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan in the pace attack.

Khushdil Shah, 26, has also been picked in the squad. He was the second highest run-getter in the Pakistan Cup 2019, scoring 316 runs at 105.33 with the help of two centuries.

“For the T20Is, Mohammad Irfan has been rewarded for the form he has shown recently. Based on horses for courses and his form, the Australian conditions will present Irfan with the opportunity to excel. This selection has also been made while looking at next year’s ICC T20 World Cup, which will be played in Australia. If we can successfully manage his workload, then he can be a valuable asset for us in next global event,” Misbah said.

“Similarly, Khushdil Shah has been added as he is in-form and has displayed his power-hitting abilities, while Usman Qadir brings to the table his experience of playing in Australia. Usman also provides cover for Shadab Khan, who is on track for reclaiming his match form.

Despite his largely indifferent form Asif Ali, the misfiring pinch-hitter has been retained in the squad. “Asif Ali has been retained due to his sparkling form in the National T20 Cup, while we have kept faith in Iftikhar Ahmed who has all the ability and talent in the middle-order,” Misbah said.

Shaheen Afridi has been picked only for Tests to ensure his safe return to international cricket after picking dengue virus in August. Misbah overlooked veterans Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.

Pakistan will begin their tour of Australia with the first T20 game on November 3 in Sydney, followed by matches in Canberra (November 5) and Perth (November 8). The two Tests will be played in Brisbane (November 21-25) and Adelaide (November 29 to December 3).

Pakistan squads

Tests: Azhar Ali (captain), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Musa Khan, Nasim Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah

T20Is: Babar Azam (captain), Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Musa Khan, Shadab Khan, Usman Qadir, Wahab Riaz