Amir included in national camp ahead of NZ tour
Mohammad Amir has been included by the PCB in a 26-man squad for a conditioning camp at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore ahead of Pakistan's upcoming tour of New Zealand. The camp, which stretches from December 21 to January 6, will also serve as a barometer to assess the fitness and performances of players leading into the World Twenty20 in March.
Amir's selection is a major leap in his reintegration into the national set-up. Amir, who completed his five-year ban for spot-fixing in September, has been active in domestic cricket since January. His latest stint with Chittagong Vikings in the Bangladesh Premier League was a success - he finished the tournament as the highest wicket-taker for the franchise.
Amir's return, though, has also led to reservations from certain quarters about him being in a Pakistan dressing room. While few players have raised eyebrows at the prospect of playing alongside him, the PCB is open to considering him for selection and is working a way out to settle any unwelcoming sense at the top. Inviting Amir for the training camp and getting him to mix with the top players in the country is seen as a stepping stone towards his comeback.
The national selectors, however, dropped Sohail Tanvir, while Harris Sohail was left out because of his continued struggle with a knee injury, which requires him to have surgery in Australia. Rafatullah Mohammad, the 39-year old batsman, and Imran Khan, the pacer, have been axed, while uncapped left-arm seamer Ruman Raees has been included.
Umar Gul is also in contention following a productive first-class season with Habib Bank Limited. He was dropped after Pakistan's ODI series defeat in Bangladesh earlier this year and has missed a major chunk of international cricket since 2013 over fitness and form.
The main objective of the camp is to improve the overall physical fitness of all players. The performance report from the camp is likely to influence the PCB's annual retainers next year. Player fitness had been given greater priority since last year and made a compulsion as part of a new clause in the central contracts. The fitness clause became one of the three major criteria - performance and integrity clearance being the others - that define a player's prospects of making the Pakistan side.
According to the 2014 contracts list, the physiological screening protocol has been divided into five levels, with a player having to undergo 17 different tests. Each component is marked on a scale of 100. Level 1, also called the fundamental level, has marks ranging from 0 to 20 - a score that is considered unacceptable. The fitness test conducted in May 2014 was considered as a benchmark for the players. Seniors like Afridi and Umar Akmal had then been fined for maintaining a below-par fitness level.
Meanwhile, the players who are engaged in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Super Eight round have been granted permission to play their domestic matches scheduled between December 20 and 23, and asked to join the training camp on or before December 24.
Pool of 26 players: Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sharjeel Khan, Azher Ali, Shoaib Malik, Babar Azam, Iftikhar Ahmed, Umer Akmal, Asad Shafiq, Shahid Afridi, Sarfraz Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan, Bilal Asif, Sohaib Maqsood, Amir Yamin, Wahab Riaz, Anwer Ali, Mohammad Irfan, Umer Gul, Rahat Ali, Junaid Khan, Ruman Raees, Immad Wasim, Yasir Shah, Saad Nasim, Mohammad Amir
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson