On paper, Pakistan head to the United Kingdom with a young squad for the Tests in Ireland and England, but Sarfraz Ahmed, their captain, believed it to be “the best possible team”.
“We are giving continuous chances to the young players,” Ahmed said on Saturday 21 April at the end of Pakistan’s training camp in Lahore. “By travelling to England now, we will allow the players to acclimatise to conditions and the tour matches will help them settle. The team is inexperienced, but we are trying to give it confidence.”
The 16-member squad includes five uncapped players – Fakhar Zaman, Usman Salahuddin, Saad Ali and Imam-ul-Haq, nephew of former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, provide fresh options in the batting line-up, while Faheem Ashraf, the medium-pacer, shores up the bowling.
Yasir Shah, the leg-spinner, misses out with a hip injury, along with the paceman Wahab Riaz. Fawad Alam, the 32-year-old batsman who played the last of his three Tests in 2009, has also been overlooked, despite his good form in domestic cricket.
“We called Fawad Alam to the training camp to check his fitness,” said Ahmed. “If it was up to me, I would take all 25 players to England but that is not the case. Every player was outstanding, but we had to select 16 and that means that some players would get selected and others won’t. If one player is not selected now, it doesn’t mean he will never get selected again in the future.”
In Shah’s absence, the spin department will be led by Shadab Khan. The 19-year-old leggie has played just one Test so far, but is ranked No.2 in the MRF Tyres ICC Men’s T20I Rankings for bowlers.
“If Yasir was fit, he would have been an automatic selection,” said Ahmed. “But we got four spinners in the camp and found Shadab is the best replacement. He has a good, solid googly, and a great stock delivery.
“But considering the conditions in England, where the weather will be much cooler, I am not sure if we are going to play a spinner in the XI. We might go with our non-regular spinners (such as) Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq.”
The last time Pakistan travelled to England for a Test series, in July-August 2016, they drew the two-match series 2-2 and became the No.1 ranked Test side.
However, Ahmed wasn’t taking anything for granted. “The conditions are always tough in England,” he said. “On our previous tour in 2016, we played matches in July, but this year we are starting a bit earlier, so obviously it will be difficult to some extent.
“We are working hard to give these boys as much confidence as possible and prepare ourselves. We have two practice games and we have prepared well here. The way our batsman and bowlers are doing hard work to enhance their skills, I believe this is going to get us good results.”
Pakistan begin their tour with warm-up games against Kent and Northamptonshire before a one-off Test against Ireland in Dublin – it will be the home side’s maiden Test. Pakistan then plays two Tests against England, and two Twenty20 Internationals against Scotland in Edinburgh.