The experienced pair of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez will return to the Pakistan side for the T20I series against Bangladesh next week. Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz have been left out, with pace bowler Muhammad Musa keeping his place in the shortest format, while batsman Ahsan Ali and fast bowler Amad Butt were called up.
For the second T20I squad in succession, head coach Misbah-ul-Haq rung in the changes as Pakistan look to break a streak of seven T20Is without a win. Pacer Shaheen Afridi returns to the side for the first time since May, having sat out the T20s against Sri Lanka and Australia as he recovered from about of dengue fever, while Usman Qadir keeps his place and may finally be in line for his debut. Haris Rauf has also been called up after his impressive season in the Big Bash League with the Melbourne Stars.
Squad: Babar Azam (capt), Ahsan Ali, Amad Butt, Iftikhar Ahmed Haris Rauf, Imad Wasim, Khushdil Shah Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Musa, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Usman Qadir
"He[Hafeez] is experienced enough and has performed well in past," said Misbah when asked about the merits of his selection. "At the time when him and Malik were ruled out, we never said that they will never be considered again. Obviously, we were trying out our pool, but we found they were missed. So even if Hafeez hasn't played much cricket lately, he is experienced and mature enough to contribute for Pakistan."
Hafeez was suspended from bowling in ECB competitions just last week after umpires reported him following a match at Taunton in August, and independent testing revealed he was breaching the 15-degree limit. Hafeez pledged to contest the findings, but as things presently stand, Pakistan will not have his services as a bowler available to them.
In the last 12 months, Pakistan have lost 8 out of 9 completed T20s they have played, and a side that was until recently ranked comfortably at the top of the T20I rankings has begun to fall apart. They still hold the number one ranking, but that is more by dint of their remarkable record in the time before this recent string of poor results. Misbah said they needed to continue to experiment until they found a combination that worked for Pakistan.
"We have lost two series earlier and it was important for us to think hard about how we can return to winning ways," said Misbah. "Most of our decisions were taken considering the fact that we have been losing and have to start winning again. So we've got our experienced players back and picked our domestic performers. We wanted to persist with Khushdil Shah and Usman Qadir and picked Harris Rauf on his performance in the national T20 Cup and the Big Bash.
"We have tried a mix of senior and young players which enable us to retain our winning momentum. Until the World T20, everyone is in consideration. Yes, the situation has been alarming after we lost against Sri Lanka and then in Australia. But we are going to keep experimenting until we don't get to our best combination. The results I know weren't up to our expectations but we don't need to be frightened."
Another surprise was the axing of Mohammad Amir, who has taken more wickets in T20I cricket than any other Pakistan bowler since the start of January 2018. He quit Test cricket to focus on white-ball cricket, and there was dismay at the PCB when that happened, who, among other things, demoted his category A contract to one in category C, the lowest category. On dropping him, Misbah, who had himself expressed unhappiness with players picking and choosing what formats they wanted to play in, said, "We tried to be consistent with young players. Having senior bowlers like Amir and Wahab sit out is tough. The whole idea of dropping them is to include younger bowlers in the playing XI."
The three match T20I series against Bangladesh will start on January 24, with the other two T20Is to be held on January 25 and 27. All three games will take place at the Gaddafi Stadium.