Amir returns to Pakistan ODI team as Masood earns maiden call-up

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Mohammad Amir.

Fast bowler Mohammad Amir returned to Pakistan‘s ODI team as selectors announced a 16-man squad for the five-match series against South Africa which starts later this month.

The 26-year-old Amir was dropped from the ODI team after picking up just one wicket in his last eight ODIs, including three Asia Cup matches in the UAE in September.

Amir has bowled decently in the ongoing Test series in South Africa and found his way back into the team.

“Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Abbas and Yasir Shah have been replaced by Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Hussain Talat, Usman Shinwari and Imad Wasim, respectively,” the Pakistan board said in a press release about the changes from the Test squad.

Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said the squad was selected with the 2019 World Cup in England in mind.

“While selecting the squad, we have tried to maintain consistency, taking into consideration player performances in white-ball cricket as well as looking ahead to the upcoming ODI challenges, including the World Cup,” he said.

There was no place for left-arm fast bowler Junaid Khan. Batsman Shan Masood and all-rounder Hussain Talat earned maiden ODI call-ups. Masood has been one of the few bright sports for Pakistan in the Test series in South Africa, showing great technique and control against a menacing South Africa pace attack.

The five-match series begins in Port Elizabeth on January 19, followed by games in Durban (January 22), Centurion (January 25), Johannesburg (January 27), and Cape Town (January 30).

Squad: Sarfaraz Ahmed (captain), Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Hussain Talat, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shan Masood, Shoaib Malik, Usman Shinwari

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Coach Arthur hints at picking Shadab over Yasir in Johannesburg Test

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Shadab Khan.

Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur has hinted at selecting leg-spinning all-rounder Shadab Khan ahead of leg-spinner Yasir Shah in the third and final Test against South Africa in Johannesburg.

Pakistan’s plans were hampered by injury to Shadab in the first two Tests and Sarfraz Ahmed‘s team ended up a bowler short in both Tests. Also, Yasir ended up bowling lesser overs than all seamers as the Tests did not go into the fifth day.

Having lost the series 2-0, coach Arthur said he is keen to have five bowlers with space for all-rounders Shadab and Faheem Asharf.

“If we go with the five bowlers – which is a strategy I really, really like in these conditions – it would give us two all-rounders and three out-and-out pacers. For that to work, we need Shadab at seven. And, he has come back to full fitness now. So, his return gives us option,” Arthur was quoted as saying by Cricbuzz.

“If everything’s equal at Johannesburg, I’d like to go with the five-bowler strategy. Because, Shadab and Faheem combine as the sixth batsman and it gives us five out-and-out bowlers – which is a luxury we needed at Cape Town.”

When asked specifically who will be picked first among Shadab and Yasir, Arthur said: “It will be Shadab because he is a genuine all-rounder. It allows us, like we did at Lord’s [last year], to have him at seven, Faheem at eight, and then three bowlers which can be any of the quicks or even Yasir if the we think the pitch is going to turn.”

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Masood and Babar rays of hope for Pakistan during disheartening South Africa tour

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Shan Masood.

Pakistan’s tour of South Africa was expected to be a shock to the system for Sarfraz Ahmed’s team. After suffering ‘home’ series defeats to Sri Lanka and New Zealand over the previous season, the South Asian side were always going to have a tough time in the rainbow nation. Just how tough was not known.

The first Test defied expectations with Pakistan well-placed in their second innings at 101-1 and looking good to set a target of 250 before imploding to 190 all out and a target of 149. The South Africans were let off the hook and there was no turning back from there.

In the Cape Town Test, the Proteas unleashed a four-man pace attack with three of them – Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier and Dale Steyn – unrelenting with their pace and short-pitched bowling. The sight of Steyn bowling over 140kph at the age of 35 even in his third and fourth spells showed just how much of an uphill battle the Pakistan batsmen faced.

They failed in the New Year’s Test as well. Yes, Pakistan almost scored 300 in the second innings but there was an element of luck to it as tailenders slogged and connected.

As Sarfraz and Mickey Arthur sift through the wreckage of the Test tour, they can afford a smile when looking at the performances of two batsmen – Shan Masood and Babar Azam.

Masood was not even supposed to be here. He was a late replacement in the first Test – 90 minutes before start of play in fact – after Haris Sohail injured his knee. Padding up at such short notice, Masood got better and better with each passing innings and has received widespread praise from commentators Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Smith for his technique and composure.

Babar Azam.

Babar Azam.

Pietersen is a fan of the amount of time Masood has while facing the most fearsome pace attack in the world, while Smith made it a point to meet the Pakistan batsman and tell him he is doing an excellent job. For a batsman who was not even on the radar, it has been a meteoric rise. Scores of 19, 65, 44, 61 in a series where his team’s batting has collapsed is truly remarkable.

Then we have Babar, the future of Pakistan batting. In both Tests, the talented middle order batsman came up with crucial knocks when the pressure was truly on. In the Centurion Test, it was his 71 in the first essay that took Pakistan to a respectable 181 that made a match out of it. And in the second innings in Cape Town, his 72 from just 87 balls is one of the most audacious innings you will see in the face of imminent defeat.

These two talented and technically gifted batsmen have shown the path that Pakistan’s cricket needs to take. It is obvious there are technically proficient batsmen in Pakistan’s domestic cricket and they only need to be given an opportunity at the right time. They may not be a Virat Kohli but you don’t need to be one to succeed in Test cricket.

Now that the Pakistan management has witnessed the success of Masood in the most hostile of environments, they can breathe easy knowing that the batting pool is not dry and that they only need to cast their net far and wide while also rewarding consistent performers – like Fawad Alam.

Pakistan are still hamstrung by underwhelming bowlers Mohammad Amir and Yasir Shah while the batting form of Fakhar Zaman and Sarfraz is not much to write home about. Going forward, getting team selections right – like having all-rounder Faheem Ashraf in seaming conditions – and taking players from first-class cricket to the Test arena will ensure the Test machine moves along slowly but smoothly.

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