Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq have been ruled out of the first Test against New Zealand, starting December 26 in Mount Maunganui as the duo is yet to recover from their respective thumb injuries. In Azam’s absence, vice-captain Mohammad Rizwan will lead the side.
Meanwhile, Pakistan included uncapped 24-year-old Imran Butt in the 17-member squad. Butt was the top run-scorer in the 2019-20 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy with 934 runs at an average of over 62. Faheem Ashraf returned to the Test squad after missing out for two years while Haris Sohail, who pulled out of the England tour due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was also back in the side. Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, Fawad Alam, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, Shan Masood, Sohail Khan and Yasir Shah continue to retain their place in the squad.
“Although it will be nearly two weeks to Babar’s injury when the first Test starts, it will be hard on him and the team to play him without any net sessions,” head coach Misbah-ul-Haq said in a statement on Monday. “I remain confident and optimistic that other players will rise to the occasion in Mount Maunganui and use the opportunity to rise to the occasion and put the disappointment of the T20I series behind them.”
Azam had fractured his right thumb a day after Imam had fractured his left thumb in training sessions in Queenstown last week. They have both not returned to the nets since then and a decision on their participation in the second Test, starting January in Christchurch, will be taken later.
Pakistan are carrying two squads – the national team and the Shaheens – in New Zealand that include 34 players out of which 17 are in the Test squad. On the conclusion of the ongoing T20I series in Napier, as many as 10 players – Abdullah Shafiq, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hussain Talat, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Musa Khan, Usman Qadir and Wahab Riaz – will be released from the national side to join the Pakistan Shaheens for five T20s against the local and New Zealand XI sides.
Imad Wasim will be released after the final T20I on Tuesday to travel to Australia to join the Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League, while Mohammad Hafeez will return to Pakistan. Rauf, who signed with the Melbourne Stars, will stay back in New Zealand for a little longer before flying out for Australia on January 6 after his stint with the Shaheens.
Pakistan have already lost the T20I series and are trailing 2-0, after they failed to defend 153 and 163 in the two games.
“It is disappointing to lose the T20I series against a well-settled New Zealand side, who utilised their resources and conditions to their advantage,” Misbah said. “We need to up our skill and improve our individual and team performances, including in Tuesday’s match, and the sooner we get these sorted the better it will be in terms of player confidences and team results as 2021 will not be any easier as we have two major events.
“Contrary to the T20I side, the Test side appears to be pretty organised and we boast some experienced cricketers, both in batting and bowling departments. With some competitive cricket on the tour now under the belt, I am hoping we will be a better outfit in the longer version of the game.”
Sarfaraz Ahmed who is the second-choice wicketkeeper for Pakistan will continue to find a place in a larger squad as Rizwan will become the country’s 33rd Test captain. Just over a year ago, Rizwan had played just one Test and none in three years. Since then he has cemented his place by impressing in Australia, playing at home against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and then having a standout series in England with both bat and behind the stumps. He was given the vice-captaincy when Azam was named the new Test captain to replace Azhar.
Pakistan squad for first Test: Mohammad Rizwan (capt), Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Sohail, Imran Butt, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shan Masood, Sohail Khan, Yasir Shah.
Pakistan Shaheens for T20s: Rohail Nazir (capt & wk), Abdullah Shafiq, Amad Butt, Danish Aziz, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hussain Talat, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Musa Khan, Usman Qadir, Wahab Riaz, Zafar Gohar, Zeeshan Malik.