Mohammad Irfan returns to the Pakistan squad after missing out on the Zimbabwe tour © AFP
Pakistan selected the Test squad for their series against South Africa, but the uncertainty over their batting continues with just five batsmen in the 12-member squad and three more spots to fill. Abhijit Banare looks at the team which is under pressure to deliver after managing just one victory in its five Tests this year.
The Pakistan cricket team is in a situation where there are enough problems on their back to weigh them down, and the sad part is there’s more to come. The team led by Misbah-ul-Haq will head to UAE to play two Tests, five One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and two Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) against a strong South Africa. The only solace here is that they will not be facing bullets like they did on the tour to South Africa in February-March; the Abu Dhabi venue promises value for their bag of spinners. However, they still face pressure to yield a positive result against the formidable South African side, or else the brickbats will continue to torment the team.
There wasn’t any other option but to revamp the side and see what others have to offer in reviving the team’s fortunes. The run-up to the 12-member squad included a 28-member probables list announced on September 26. As expected, the eventual confusion prevailed over the batsmen in the team. In the squad announced, there are six bowlers — three spinners and as many pacers; Umar Akmal has been chosen as wicketkeeper, while there are just five batsmen.
The lack of batsmen is clearly evident from the fact that just two players, Misbah and Younis Khan can be certain of their presence in the playing XI. According to the squad released on Saturday, three more places are up for grabs for the ones playing for Pakistan A in the three-day match at Sharjah. And it’s likely that at least two of the spots are available for the batsmen if not all three.
In the present squad, Khurram Manzoor is the only recognised opener and is sure to make it to the playing XI. Ahmed Shehzad, Faisal Iqbal, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq are the top contenders to vie for the spot of batsmen. Shehzad does have a good chance of eyeing a Test debut as he is the only opener among the four names mentioned above.
Meanwhile, it would be interesting if Shafiq and Ali manage to retain their spot or an experienced Iqbal gets a go in the middle-order. Iqbal’s presence would make for a solid middle-order in the form of Younis and Misbah. While Kamran Akmal remains away from the team and Umar has not been picked, the Akmal representation in the team remains intact though with Adnan Akmal retained as wicketkeeper after he toured to Zimbabwe.
On the bowling front, the lanky Mohammad Irfan returns to the squad after missing out on the Zimbabwe tour. Surprisingly, Irfan was not even named in the probables list but made it into the main squad. With Junaid Khan and Rahat Ali, Pakistan have a relatively fair strength in the pace attack. A slightly surprising inclusion is the decision to squeeze in left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar. The 24-year-old has picked 309 wickets in 63 First-Class matches and finally managed to impress on the tour to West Indies where he picked five wickets in two T20Is. The records in domestic format surely merited his selection.
It was expected that Mohammad Hafeez would be excluded from the side as he was not named in the probables list as well. Hafeez’s dismissal figures of 102 in last 10 Test innings has badly affected Pakistan’s performance at the top. On a lighter note at least he will be away from facing Dale Steyn who tormented him on the tour to South Africa.
Since the team is going through an experimentation phase with an uncertain mind of what is going to click they could have given an opportunity to the young Sialkot left-hander Harris Sohail. Even the elegant left-hander Nasir Jamshed should have secured a chance to make a Test comeback after the South Africa debacle. Going by the age and his abilities it’s essential to nurture someone as talented as him. Even Umar Akmal failed to secure a chance in the A team. Even pacer Wahab Riaz failed to secure a chance.
Overall, Misbah and Younis will continue to be the key to Pakistan’s prospects while the spinners will play a vital role in troubling the Proteas. It’s an experiment the skipper will be fervently hoping to click. The last time these two teams met in UAE was in 2010-11 where the two-Test series was drawn 0-0.
Pakistan A squad:
Shan Masood, Ahmed Shehzad , Azhar Ali, Umar Amin (c), Faisal Iqbal, Asad Shafiq, Muoammad Rizwan (wk), Ehsan Adil, Ahmed Jamal, Akber-ur-Rehman, Usman Qadir, Yasir Shah, Sohaib Maqsood, Aizaz Cheema, Imran Khan.
Khurram Manzoor, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Umar Amin, Adnan Akmal (wk), Saeed Ajmal, Zulfiqar Babar, Abdur Rehman, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)