Asad Shafiq doesn’t figure in the squad of 35, to be led by Pakistan’s new all-format captain Babar Azam, for a series of three T20Is and two Tests in New Zealand, to be played in December-January. Mohammad Rizwan, the wicketkeeper-batsman, will be Azam’s deputy for the Tests, while legspinning-allrounder Shadab Khan has been named second-in-command for the T20Is.
Apart from Shafiq, Mohammad Amir and Shoaib Malik also found their names missing from the expanded squad, with Misbah-ul-Haq, the chief selector and head coach, explaining that the team was looking to invest in youth as much as possible. Fast bowler Amad Butt, middle-order batsmen Danish Aziz and Imran Butt, and wicketkeeper-batsman Rohail Nazir, also named captain of the Shaheens team, were among the uncapped players selected.
“The matches in New Zealand are critical for us as we aim to improve our T20I rankings and also gain valuable points in the ICC World Test Championship. In this background and taking into consideration recent player performances, we have selected the best available players,” Misbah said in a PCB statement. “I want to congratulate uncapped Amad Butt, Danish Aziz, Imran Butt and Rohail Nazir who have impressed the selectors with their form, technique, temperament and ability to secure places in the 35-player pool.
“There are three major omissions from the side that toured England. Asad Shafiq has been left out due to lack of form after he managed 510 runs in his last 15 innings, including a total of 67 runs in England. Asad is an experienced batsman and I am sure he will utilise this time to work harder on his game in the domestic first-class matches so that he, like Sarfaraz Ahmed, can reclaim his form and be back in contention for the upcoming Tests against South Africa and Zimbabwe.
“Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Amir are not part of the white-ball matches as for this tour we have opted to invest, develop and focus on the promising and emerging players who are likely to be available to Pakistan for all formats. We have kept faith in Mohammad Hafeez and Wahab Riaz purely on the basis of their outstanding and consistent performances as well as the value they bring to the T20I squad.”
Shafiq’s exclusion is the most noteworthy takeaway from the squad. Since making his debut against South Africa in 2010, he has missed just one Test, and none of the last 72. That is the longest consecutive streak of Test matches for a Pakistan cricketer, soaring past Javed Miandad, who managed 53.
An ever-present in the middle order, Shafiq has not grown into the batsman Pakistan wanted him to be, remaining a solid, reliable option in the lower middle order instead of a ruthless, high-scoring accumulator higher up. His wretched series in England in the summer was perhaps the first time in his career he met what could genuinely be called a slump, but the sense that Shafiq had plateaued for several years now appears to have forced the PCB’s hand.
The dovetailing of the senior tour with the tour of the Pakistan “A” team, called the Shaheens, has meant a significant contingent on tour comprises young, promising cricketers. While the Shaheens side is primarily going to New Zealand to play against their counterparts there, the players from that side will be available to Pakistan too, which means the likes of Nazir – appointed captain of the Shaheens – Imran Butt, Aziz, Haider Ali and Abdullah Shafique could find themselves called up for senior duty over the course of the tour.
While former Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed travels with the team on tour, naming Rizwan as the vice-captain appears to have established the pecking order. Rizwan has enjoyed a remarkable rise in Pakistan cricket; a year ago, he had played just one Test in his career, and none in three years. Since he was included, a stellar tour of Australia and home series against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh cemented his place, before a standout series in England with both bat and behind the stumps established him as one of the first names on the Pakistan team-sheet. The vice-captaincy, given to him after just nine career Tests, merely confirms that status.
Another key point of interest is the inclusion of Yasir Shah. Shah has been particularly ineffective throughout his career in the Southern Hemisphere; his average in Test cricket in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand is just under 97 runs per wicket. The inclusion of Usman Qadir and Shadab Khan means he is by no means a guaranteed starter, while the nature of the pitches Pakistan find may compel them into playing an all-pace attack anyway.
Pakistan last toured New Zealand for a Test series four years ago, in 2016, with the hosts winning 2-0. Just two members from that side, Azhar Ali and Babar Azam, are guaranteed starters. The first Test takes place in Mount Maunganui on December 26, with the second being played at Hagley Oval in Christchurch on January 3.