KARACHI: Fresh from his heroics in the recently-concluded One-day International series, middle-order batsman Babar Azam is set to make his Test debut in Dubai next week.
Babar, who made headlines by smashing three consecutive tons in a 3-0 whitewash against the West Indies, was included in Pakistan’s Test squad by the national selection committee on Saturday.
The opening Test — a day-night affair — will begin in Dubai on October 13.
Also earning a call-up in the 14-man squad for the opening Test was all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz.
Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Hafeez and Shan Masood were the players left out of the group that went to England this summer.
Veteran batsman Younis Khan had already been ruled out of the opening Test as he is recovering from dengue.
The squad includes only five specialist batsmen in Azhar Ali, Sami Aslam, Azam, Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq, meaning Pakistan are likely to play Sarfraz Ahmed at No. 6, and Nawaz at No 7 or go in with five specialist bowlers.
Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq acknowledged that Pakistan have been struggling to find quality all-rounders and hoped Nawaz could be the answer.
“We have been searching for one who can bat in the lower order and bowl as well. And if you look at Nawaz, he has got a good first-class record. It shows he has been promising with the bat and has competed as a bowler,” Inzmamam told reporters in Karachi.
Nawaz has 1440 runs and 44 wickets, including three centuries and a seven-wicket haul, across 29 first-class matches.
Azam, 21, was picked in the squad after a prolific run in one-day cricket for Pakistan this year, scoring 656 runs in 11 innings at an average of 59 and strike rate of 95. He made his ODI debut in the home series against Zimbabwe in May 2015, and has 886 runs in 18 matches. Azam averages 41.13 in first-class cricket, having scored 1522 runs in 41 innings for five different teams.
Hafeez played three Tests on the tour of England, making 102 runs in six innings, before he was dropped for the last match at The Oval, which Pakistan won to draw the series 2-2. He played the one-off ODI against Ireland and the first one against England before he suffered a leg injury and returned home. After recovering Hafeez was asked by the selectors to play in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, Pakistan’s first-class competition, and he made 68 in both innings of his first game for Sui Northern Gas Pipelines.
Inzamam said this was because they didn’t want the players sitting on the bench for too long. “Those who are good but weren’t able to perform in England, we made them to play in first-class cricket. We didn’t want them to waste their time on the bench but rather they play some cricket get themselves back into form.”
Hafeez earned a spot in the PCB Patron’s XI against the West Indians in Sharjah, but he made a duck in the first innings and was left out of the Test squad.
This meant Pakistan were going into the series with only one specialist opener – Aslam. The selectors felt with Azhar having performed the role in their most recent Test and with it being a home series, they were covered.
“See this is our home series and if we need anyone we can bring them over,” Inzamam said. “And if you recall, in the England series, it was Azhar who opened the innings so it’s fine. He knows he will open again.”
Speaking on the issue of a farewell game for former captain Shahid Afridi, Inzmam stressed that any player who has competed at the international level for 20 years should know when to retire.
Pakistan squad: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Imran Khan, Mohammad Amir, Rahat Ali, Sami Aslam, Sarfraz Ahmed, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz, Yasir Shah, Zulfiqar Babar, Babar Azam, Mohammad Nawaz.