Sharjeel Khan‘s PSL form has been rewarded with a recall to the national side for the first time in over four years, as he was included in Pakistan’s T20I squad for the tours of South Africa and Zimbabwe next month.
Sharjeel was the third-highest corer in this year’s curtailed PSL season, finishing only behind Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam, but at a fantastic strike rate of 170.94, well ahead of what the other two recorded. Sharjeel, playing for the Karachi Kings, was the only player to score a hundred in this edition, against the Islamabad United.
The recall capped an eventful four years for the left-handed opener, who was out of the game altogether for two and a half of them, banned for his part in the 2017 PSL spot-fixing scandal.
There have, however, been question marks about Sharjeel’s fitness. “Fitness isn’t the only criteria for selection – at the end of the day, a player has to play cricket. We are already working on reviewing the fitness testing levels and will introduce a new strategy [to gauge fitness],” Mohammad Wasim, Pakistan’s chief selector, said in a press conference. “I didn’t comment on Sharjeel’s fitness earlier as his performances [last year] were patchy, but now we have to look at anyone who performs, whatever the fitness they have.
“Yes, I understand there is still a lot work that needs to be done on his fitness and he will improve with time, but at the moment he can win us big games with his bat.”
The view on Sharjeel’s fitness marked something of a U-turn for the PCB. As recently as a year ago, PCB CEO Wasim Khan, not normally known for singling out players for criticism, had made an exception for Sharjeel, bemoaning his inability to remain fit while serving his ban, and said there was “a long way to go” before he could be considered for national selection.
The other significant development was the absence of Yasir Shah from the Test side as he continued to nurse a left knee injury.
The senior legspinner has been a regular in Pakistan’s Test squads for much of the past seven years, but has also experienced a form dip in recent times. The emergence of spinners like Sajid Khan, Zahid Mahmood and Nauman Ali – all included in the expanded Test squad – have also meant that Pakistan can afford to look beyond him. Shah’s performances in the southern hemisphere have been particularly underwhelming, with an average of 87 in that part of the world over the years.
Shahnawaz Dhani, the Multan Sultans fast bowler who was something of a feel-good story during the PSL, was also called up for the Test series against Zimbabwe, with the chief selector saying that his performances during the tournament showed he could perform under pressure.
Dhani took nine wickets in four PSL matches this season – the second-most among all bowlers, and while an economy rate of 10.33 needs work, there was enough for Mohammad Wasim to suggest he could be a white-ball prospect.
“We basically saw him playing red-ball cricket in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and in the PSL he exhibited that he can handle the pressure,” the chief selector said. “He has the quality, the way he is bowling with control and pace… if we were playing Tests against South Africa, we would have reconsidered it, but we picked him because we are playing Zimbabwe.
“Also, we are lacking fast bowlers in red-ball cricket. In white-ball cricket, we have more options than him. He is presently our future in red-ball cricket and we are trying make a pool and attract players in this format. He is definitely going to be considered for white-ball cricket in future.”
Pakistan play three ODIs and four T20Is against South Africa before moving to Zimbabwe, where they are scheduled to play two Test matches and three T20Is.
Test squad: Babar Azam (capt), Imran Butt, Abid Ali, Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Fawad Alam, Saud Shakeel, Agha Salman, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf, Tabish Khan, Hasan Ali, Shahnawaz Dhani, Nauman Ali, Zahid Mahmood, Sajid Khan.
ODI squad: Babar Azam (capt), Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Abdullah Shafique, Haider Ali, Danish Aziz, Saud Shakeel, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hasnain, Usman Qadir, Hasan Ali.
T20I squad: Babar Azam (capt), Shadab Khan, Sharjeel Khan, Mohammad Hafeez, Haider Ali, Danish Aziz, Asif Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hasnain, Usman Qadir, Hasan Ali, Arshad Iqbal.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent