Pakistan have rewarded some of their consistent performers in domestic cricket by including three uncapped players - top-order batsman Rameez Raja, legspinner Yasir Shah and seamer Aizaz Cheema - as well as fast bowler Sohail Khan, who has played only one Test, in the squad for the tour of Zimbabwe that starts on August 28. There are also recalls for opening batsman Imran Farhat, who hasn't played for Pakistan since the one-day series against South Africa in the UAE in October 2010, and left-arm fast bowler Sohail Tanvir, who was last included for the New Zealand tour earlier in the year.
The squad seems to be an experimental one, with the bowling attack in particular featuring several new names and missing some of the senior players. Umar Gul, Tanvir Ahmed and Wahab Riaz, who have been Pakistan's three premier fast bowlers in recent times, have all been rested, with Sohail Khan, Sohail Tanvir, Cheema and Junaid Khan making up the pace attack. There is also a change in the spin department with Abdur Rehman being rested and Yasir being given an opportunity.
Pakistan's chief selector Mohsin Khan explained that the fresh look to the squad was an effort to blood youngsters. "We have to bring in young players along with seniors so that they could be groomed," he said. "Because it's a short tour we have selected only one squad for all three formats of the game and have rested Riaz and Gul in a hope to try out some youngsters."
Adnan Akmal has reclaimed the wicketkeeper's spot in the squad, meaning Mohammad Salman, who failed to impress with the bat in the West Indies and Ireland, makes way. Allrounder Hammad Azam also failed to have an impact on those tours and has been kept in the standbys to make place for Raja. Ahmed Shehzad, who was dropped after the tour of the West Indies, has been left out again.
Another development is the inclusion of Shoaib Malik, the former Pakistan captain, in the list of standbys. Malik has been involved in a battle with the PCB, whose integrity committee has not cleared him for selection since the controversial tour of England last year. Mohsin said Malik would only be included if he managed to obtain clearance from the PCB. Meanwhile, legspinner Danish Kaneria, who has taken his fight to get clearance to the Sindh High Court, continues to be ignored.
Raja's call-up comes on the back of consistent domestic performance in all formats. He was the leading run-getter in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Division One last season, and was top of the run charts again during the recent Faysal Bank Super Eight Twenty20 Cup. His performances in the T20 competition, which included a 97 in the semi-final and a half-century in the final, led to calls for his inclusion in the national side.
Sohail Khan, Sohail Tanvir and Cheema were all recently part of an emerging players camp at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore, where they received tips from former Pakistan fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz. Sohail Khan and Sohail Tanvir both brought themselves back into the limelight during the Super Eight Twenty20 competition; the former took 14 wickets in Karachi Dolphins' road to the finals, while the latter captained Rawalpindi Rams to the title. Cheema, 31, earned his call-up through another strong first-class season in which he took 57 wickets in eight games in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
Yasir impressed with his 16 wickets in four games during the Faysal Bank Pentangular Cup at the beginning of this year, and then took 3 for 29 for Pakistan A against Afghanistan in a one-dayer. Farhat also did well in the Pentangular, hitting a century and two fifties, and was leading run-getter in the domestic one-day competition before that.
Pakistan squad: Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Taufiq Umar, Imran Farhat, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Rameez Raja junior, Adnan Akmal (wk), Saeed Ajmal, Yasir Shah, Sohail Tanvir, Sohail Khan, Junaid Khan, Aizaz Cheema.
Standbys: Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Khurram Manzoor, Sharjeel Khan, Mohammad Talha, Hammad Azam, Shoaib Malik (subject to clearance from PCB integrity committee)