Pakistan turn their attention to hosting Sri Lanka after their tour of Australia was a predictable but unmitigated disaster. New skipper Azhar Ali and new coach Misbah-ul-Haq are under a lot of pressure early into their tenures as fans look for an immediate response.
Here are the 15 men Pakistan should select for the series:
1. Abid Ali: The opener wasn’t given a chance in Australia but may not be too disappointed considering the troubles his compatriots faced. Abid has a solid technique and the 32-year-old has done well in the four ODIs that he has played, including a century on debut against Australia.
2. Shan Masood: Shan had a decent tour of Australia compared to his teammates, averaging 39 and getting starts in all of the matches. It has been four years since Shan scored a century so he will be hoping he can turn of his starts into a big score in the upcoming series. He is more adept at playing away from home where the ball comes onto the bat so it will be interesting to see how he fares on home soil.
3. Azhar Ali: The skipper’s form has dropped at an alarming rate and he averages just 10.62 this year. Even more worrying is the fact that he averages 26.31 since the retirement of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan more than two years ago, despite averaging 46.86 before that. Azhar needs to step up to the plate and favourable conditions at home might help him do just that.
4. Babar Azam: The series against Australia should be the launch pad that Babar required to take the Test format by the scruff of the neck. The 25-year-old will be eager to carry his form into the Sri Lanka series after being the team’s standout batsman Down Under.
5. Fawad Alam: Calls for Fawad to be included in the team continue to grow by the day as the left-hander keeps giving more and more evidence that his non-selection has nothing to do with cricket. The 34-year-old was busy scoring a double-century for Sindh while most of the batsmen in the Pakistan side were finding it difficult to get into double figures. He has 665 runs in 10 completed matches at this year’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy at an average of 66.5.
6. Asad Shafiq: Asad showed the fighting spirit against Australia that has made him such a huge, if underrated, asset in the Pakistan side. The veteran should return to the number six spot where he is at his most valuable for the team. He scored two gutsy half-centuries against Australia but will demand more from himself against Sri Lanka.
7. Muhammad Rizwan: The wicketkeeper-batsman is now the team’s undisputed keeper and the added trust shown in him seems to have paid off as he delivered in Australia. The 27-year-old looked assured against Australia and was not afraid of taking the fight back to them.
8. Haris Sohail: The left-hander didn’t exactly cover himself in glory during the tour of Australia and was dropped for the second Test but the 30-year-old should be included in the squad considering how poor Iftikhar Ahmed was. Haris can contribute with both bat and ball, especially on spinning conditions, and can be a handy weapon for Azhar.
9. Kamran Akmal: Kamran has become a bit of a running joke in Pakistan due to his poor glove-work back in the day but has arguably been the country’s best batsman in the domestic circuit across all formats for the past five years. He is once again up there in the scoring charts for the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy with 818 runs to his name at an average of 62.92 and the only player with more than 500 runs that has a better strike-rate than Kamran’s 76.09 is his brother Umar Akmal. Kamran can also be a viable option behind the stumps to free up Rizwan, who is the side’s best fielder by some distance. Kamran is 37 but has proven his fitness with some huge knocks in recent times.
10. Yasir Shah: It isn’t often that a bowler can give away more than 400 runs and pick up just four wickets at an average of more than 100 in a Test series and still be proud of his achievements, but that is precisely the kind of tour of Australia Yasir had. The leg-spinner was Pakistan’s second-best batsman after Babar and etched his name on the Adelaide Oval honours board after scoring the most remarkable of centuries. He will be looking to improve on his day job though and conditions in Rawalpindi and Karachi will be much more suited to the leg-spinner than they were in Brisbane and Adelaide.
11. Nauman Ali: The Pakistan Cricket Board has made a huge fuss about reducing the number of teams in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy to improve competition, and performances in the domestic competition can no longer be ignored. Nauman has been this season’s standout bowler with 46 wickets to his name — 10 more than Zafar Gohar in second. Nauman also has the best average and the best strike-rate of any bowler with 20 or more wickets in the competition this season. The 33-year-old also has five five-wicket hauls to his name, while nobody else has more than two.
12. Shaheen Shah Afridi: It still bears reminding that Shaheen is just 19 and needs his workload managed, but the youngster already seems to have made himself undroppable. He was the side’s highest wicket-taker in Australia and the only one who managed a wicket in the second Test.
13. Usman Khan Shinwari: The 25-year-old Shinwari has the tendency to be wayward and inconsistent but also comes with the ability to tear through batting sides when he finds the right rhythm. Pakistan struggled to get wickets against Australia and Usman is one of the country’s most lethal bowler on any given day. The only two pacers with 10 or more wickets and better averages this Quaid-e-Azam Trophy than Shinwari are 16-year-old Naseem Shah and 40-year-old Aizaz Cheema. He is also only behind the two in terms of strike-rate.
14. Muhammad Abbas: The medium-pacer was toothless in Australia and for some reason doesn’t seem to have the backing of the management. However, he remains one of the side’s most consistent bowlers and can provide threat and control in equal measure for Azhar Ali. His ability to extract seam movement in Asian conditions will make him a pivotal part of the side.
15. Imran Khan: The pacer was given only one match on his return to international cricket after two years out and deserves one more chance to prove himself at the biggest stage. Imran was economical in the only Test he played and claimed a five-wicket haul in a warm-up game to show that he still has something to offer.