Pakistan to test bench strength against Zimbabwe

Pakistan will be trialling fresh faces during the five-match one-day international series against Zimbabwe, due to begin from January 26. The relatively low-key nature of the series provides an ideal opportunity for Pakistan's selectors to test players in three departments, before Australia visit in March for a full tour.

"We will definitely try out some new faces in whichever department we need them in," Salahuddin Ahmed, chief selector, told Cricinfo. "That's not to say that we are taking Zimbabwe lightly, but we need to assess players on the fringes of the national side and this is a good opportunity."

The bulk of the experimentation will be carried out with fast bowling, opening and the wicketkeeping slot, areas which have for various reasons troubled Pakistan in recent years. Salahuddin suggested domestic pace stalwarts such as Abdur Rauf and Mohammad Irshad would be in line for debuts.

"We're also keeping an eye on the progress of Anwar Ali [former Under-19 star] and Sohail Khan." Sohail, a right-arm fast-medium bowler from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) but based in Karachi, has lit up this season's Quaid-e-Azam trophy with a string of outstanding performances.

In nine matches of what is his debut first-class season, for Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), he has taken 65 wickets; he has already taken eight five-wicket hauls and two ten-wicket match hauls. This includes, in his last match, a Pakistan first-class record haul of 16 for 189, including 9 for 109 in the second innings.

The selectors also have an eye on three openers in particular prospering domestically. "Khurram Manzoor, Khalid Latif and Nasir Jamshed have been very good this season from all reports and they are definitely in the mix for that series, as is Asim Kamal," Salahuddin said.

Manzoor, who opens for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is the only batsman with over 1000 runs this season (including matches for Pakistan A), while the left-handed Jamshed and Latif, with three hundreds apiece, are not far behind. Latif, in fact, was called up to the Pakistan ODI squad for three matches of the series against South Africa in October, though he didn't eventually play.

And following more mediocre performances behind the stumps in India, it is almost inevitable that Kamran Akmal will be rested and former U-19 captain Sarfraz Ahmed given a run in his place. Sarfraz was called up to India as cover for Akmal and made his debut in the last ODI at Jaipur, impressing most observers with an assured display. The idea that both play, with Akmal as a specialist middle-order batsman, has also been discussed by the team management.

Zimbabwe are scheduled to arrive on January 12 and will play a four-day match and a three-day match before the ODI series begins.