OUR STAFF REPORTER
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on Monday named young pacers Musa Khan, Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi in the 16-member national squad for next month’s World Test Championship fixtures against Australia.
The three pace sensations will join 14-Test veteran Mohammad Abbas and fast bowler Imran Khan Senior, who has been recalled after playing his ninth and final Test in Sydney in January 2017, as the Pakistan cricket selectors have taken an attacking and aggressive approach for the upcoming Tests while also looking at the future.
The 19-year-old Musa from Islamabad has played seven first-class matches in which he has taken 17 wickets, while Lahore’s 16-year-old Naseem has also claimed 17 wickets in five first-class matches. In the four-day first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy 2019-20, Musa has picked up five wickets in four matches and Naseem has bagged nine wickets in three matches.
Both Musa and Naseem, regular features of the Pakistan junior sides, are regarded as the quickest on the domestic circuit, regularly touching 145kph on the speed gun, with tremendous potential and bright futures.
Musa has also been named for the three T20Is, which will be played in the first week of November. In the 20-over format, Musa will team up with Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan, the 2.16m tall left-armer who has been included to further bolster the fast bowling attack while keeping an eye on next year’s ICC T20 World Cup Australia 2020.
In both the formats, Misbah-ul-Haq’s selection committee has also rewarded the high-performing players. In the T20I side, they have included Bannu’s 24-year-old middle-order batsman Khushdil Shah and 26-year-old wrist spinner Usman Qadir of Lahore, who has played seven Big Bash League matches for Perth Scorchers.
In the ongoing National T20 Cup, Khushdil has scored 93 runs for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at an impressive strike-rate of over 160. Khushdil was the second highest run-getter in the Pakistan Cup 2019, scoring 316 runs at 105.33 with the help of two centurieswhile Usman has taken four wickets at an economy-rate of under seven.
In the Test side, the selectors, apart from Musa and Naseem, have also named 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, and left-arm spinner Kashif Bhatti.
The 33-year-old Kashif has taken 10 wickets in the current season, while in an 83-match first-class career, spanning over 12 years, he has taken 327 wickets. Like Imran Khan Senior, middle-order batsman Iftikhar Ahmed has been recalled to the Test side after his only Test against England at The Oval in 2016.
Explaining his selections, chief selector and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq said: “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.
“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. 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,” he added.
Misbah said: “Abbas’ caliber 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 Senior 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.
“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.
He said: “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.
“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.
“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,” he said adding, “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.”
Replying to a query, chief selector Misbah gave a straight and clear message to Sarfraz and others to work hard as doors are open for them and performance is the only criteria to make a comeback. “A baseball controversy has been created after the exclusion of Sarfraz as no theory exists behind that he was not selected and the only reason was being the out of form and nothing else.”
“I have a clear and straight message for Sarfraz and other players to perform upto a required level by putting in hard work and it is the only way to get a place in the national squad,” he said and added: “We have focused our sights on the future of Pakistan cricket and rebuilding of the team in order to meet future challenges and it is imperative to have the best players in the squad to take on a tough challenge in Australia in a brave and decent manner by demonstrating aggressive and fearless cricket.”
Hasan Ali was not considered for the tour as he is still recovering from his back injury, while Shaheen Afridi has been picked only for Tests to ensure his safe return to international cricket after picking dengue virus in August. Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik were not considered as part of the selectors’ forward-looking strategy.
The T20I side will depart for Sydney on 26 October, while the Test players will leave for Perth after featuring in the fifth round of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, which will be played from 28-31 October.
TESTS: Azhar Ali (capt), Abid Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan Sr, Iftikhar Ahmed, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Rizwan, Musa Khan, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Yasir Shah.
Babar Azam (capt), Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Rizwan, Musa Khan, Shadab Khan, Usman Qadir, Wahab Riaz.
31 Oct T20 warm-up match v CA XI Sydney
3 Nov 1st T20I Sydney
5 Nov 2nd T20I Canberra
8 Nov 3rd T20I Perth
11-13 Nov Three-day match v CA XI Perth
15-16 Nov Two-day match v CA XI Perth
21-25 Nov 1st Test Brisbane
29 Nov-3 Dec 2nd Test Adelaide