Pakistan pick Babar Azam, Nawaz in Test squad
Middle-order batsman Babar Azam and left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz earned maiden Test call-ups, for the first Test against West Indies in the UAE. Azam's selection came right after he scored three consecutive centuries in Pakistan's 3-0 ODI whitewash over West Indies.
Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Hafeez and Shan Masood were the players left out of the group that went to England this summer, as Pakistan named a 14-man squad for the Dubai Test from October 13. Younis Khan had already been ruled out of the fixture, Pakistan's maiden day-night Test, because he was recovering from dengue.
The squad contained 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 allrounder 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 allrounders 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."
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."
Squad Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 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
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson