Pakistan have rested six players, including regular captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, for the ODIs against Australia in the UAE, and Shoaib Malik will lead the side. The decision to rest several players, chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said, was taken largely to ensure they got adequate rest before the World Cup. As many as four players were recalled, including Umar Akmal and Junaid Khan. The 16-man squad also included uncapped players Saad Ali and Mohammad Hasnain, and Mohammad Abbas , who is yet to play an ODI.
The five players rested apart from Sarfaraz were Babar Azam, Shaheen Afridi, Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali. Hussain Talat was the only player dropped from the ODI squad that had toured South Africa earlier this year, with Mohammad Hafeez missing out out as he is still recovering from a thumb injury.
"I am pleased we have been able to develop a strong bench-strength that has helped us make eight changes from the previous series," Inzamam told a press conference. "With a stronger bench we can have a stronger Pakistan team. This is a good sign for Pakistan cricket as we now have a big pool of players who have the capability, talent and potential, and are raring to step up and seize the opportunity when thrown at the deep end.
"The changes have been made taking into consideration the player workload in the build up to the World Cup, which starts 30 May. Apart from five ODIs against Australia, we have three warm-up games followed by five ODIs against England, and then two World Cup warm-up matches followed by, at least, nine games. This is too much cricket in a short period of time. Had there been no pre-World Cup matches in England, then we would not have made such changes."
The idea to rest Shadab prompted selectors to recalled Yasir Shah - who last played an ODI last year against Zimbabwe. He was dropped thereafter when Shadab had elevated to play in all three formats, playing 40 internationals including four Tests in the last 12 months. On recalling Yasir, Inzamam said that Pakistan is aiming to have two legspinners in the World Cup.
"Yasir has been great in Test cricket and we are keeping open the possibility of having two wristspinners at the World Cup. We hope we can help him transfer his Test-match form to limited-overs cricket too."
While no new Pakistan batting talent has stood out in this year's edition of the PSL, there was, as ever, lots of fresh fast bowling quality to catch the eye. The call-up of Hyderabad-born Hasnain results from his impressive form with the table-topping Quetta Gladiators, having taken five wickets in four matches. More than that or his economy rate, however, it is his sheer pace that caught the eyes of the public, and presumably the selectors, with the 18-year old getting his first international chance.
Hasnain clocked over 150kmph at this year's PSL, and holds the record for the fastest ball at the tournament this year. He played two first-class games for Pakistan Television before the tournament, but only came to prominence after getting into the Pakistan Under-19 squad for the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. Remarkably, he wasn't originally picked at the PSL draft, but when another pacer, Naseem Shah was ruled out with a back injury, the door opened on Hasnain to be part of the Quetta squad.
The selectors also recalled Junaid and Haris Sohail - two players whose careers have repeatedly been derailed by injuries. Abid Ali was last picked up in the Test squad for the New Zealand series in 2016, though he never made his Test debut.
"While Haris Sohail, Junaid Khan, Umar Akmal and Yasir Shah are returning to ODI cricket, Abid Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Hasnain and Saad Ali have been rewarded for stellar performances in domestic cricket," Inzamam said. "The series against the world champions will not be an easy one and these players will be tested to their limits. This will provide these players a great opportunity to display their skills and temperament, strengthening their claims for a World Cup call-up as there are a few places up for grabs."
Resting Sarfaraz was something of a sensitive issue, particularly with the talk of who the World Cup captain would be just a month ago when Malik took over as Sarfaraz sat out four games due to a ban. Inzamam, however, was quick to allay any fears of a late change in plan. "Sarfaraz is our captain and if anyone scores runs in his absence that doesn't mean that he should be worried about his place," Inzamam said, when probed about the chance of Rizwan taking over the gloves. "Sarfaraz did well as captain, and he won games with the bat for Pakistan. He is our captain and he can't be compared with any other player."
The five-match ODI series will start on March 22 in Sharjah and will end on March 31 in Dubai.