As Pakistan picked their 18-player team to play England in a three-match series on home soil next month, we take a look at some of the major talking points from the selection table. During the screening process, Pakistan Lotus Exchange 247 made a few surprises.
In order to compete with the top teams, finish in the top two, and get to the World Test Championship final the following year, Pakistan must win the series.
In order to try to win a spot in the World Test Championship final at The Oval next year, Pakistan has five Tests remaining—three in this series against England and three over the New Year against New Zealand. Pakistan is currently in fifth place with a 51.85 victory percentage.
A mystery spinner is about to be exposed, and Yasir Shah is once more in the backdrop.
Yasir Shah, who has taken the fifth-most Test wickets for Pakistan, has been a tremendous asset to the team, but it appears selectors may be looking for a replacement after the 36-year-old was passed over for the series against England.
Abrar Ahmed’s pick as a leg-spinner is a dangerous one, but if he can confuse batters with his blend of leg-spin and wrong-ones, it could pay off nicely.
Ahmed, 24, has a distinguished record with 76 wickets at an average slightly north of 25 despite only participating in 13 first-class matches. He seems like a good decision based on how he’s been playing lately.
While Mohammad Nawaz and Nauman Ali are likely to be Pakistan’s two main spinners throughout the series, Babar Azam will also have Ahmed as a backup option if the situation calls for slower bowlers.
Shaheen Afridi’s absence has given Haris Rauf the opportunity to flourish.
Pakistan’s suspicions were verified when star pacer Shaheen Afridi was left off the 18-man roster owing to an ongoing knee ailment, but if teammate fast Haris Rauf can translate his white-ball prowess to the Test arena, it could end up being a blessing in disguise.
Rauf has never played in a Test match for his country, which is surprising, but he is still young enough at 29 to make an impact in the longest format.
Pakistan may still have a quality quicks squad even without Afridi, and it is anticipated that players like Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Wasim Jr., Naseem Shah, and Rauf will compete for two or even three pace slots throughout each Test.
It should be noted that during the three-match series in Pakistan earlier this year, Australia pacers Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins were extremely effective at using reverse swing, so Babar might try to exploit Rauf’s ability to swing the old ball as a weapon.
The Pakistani team consists of the following players: Imam-ul-Haq, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Abrar Ahmed, Zahid Mahmood, Shan Masood, Saud Shakeel, Salman Agha, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Abdullah Shafique, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shan Masood, Shan Masoo Mo
The regular batting order hardly changed.
Pakistan’s top-order is established and prepared to score many runs, with outstanding openers Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq almost certain to familiarise themselves for the first Test of the series in Rawalpindi.
The lineup also noticeably lacks the brilliant left-hander Fawad Alam, who would normally bat at positions three and four with Azhar Ali and Babar.
Since Fawad only managed to score 33 runs on four knocks against Australia earlier this year, it appears that selectors have given up on the 37-year-old. Instead, they might give Shan Masood, a talented all-rounder, another opportunity to prove himself in the middle order.
Following the shock of Sarfaraz, Pakistan has options.
A reliable wicketkeeper and batsman like Mohammad Rizwan is a need for Pakistan’s starting lineup, but Sarfaraz Ahmed, the country’s former captain, is a controversial choice.
Sarfaraz, a 35-year-old Pakistani batsman, hasn’t played in a Lotus Exchange 247 Test match since his appearance against South Africa in Johannesburg at the start of 2019, although he has been in superb form recently in local cricket.
In the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the tenacious right-hander recently hit a century for Sindh and has amassed 394 runs at an average of over 44 so far this season.
It will be interesting to see if the selectors are indeed looking for Sarfaraz to fill a certain position or if they are simply eager to have his experience around the team during such an important series. Rizwan or Sarfaraz could be used as a specialty batter.