Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent
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Pakistan's pace-bowling trio of Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir have lost their central contracts while former captain Sarfaraz Ahmed has been demoted from category A to B by the PCB. Shaheen Afridi and Azhar Ali were promoted from category B to A, joining Babar Azam in the top category for PKR 1.1 million (USD 6200 approx.). The PCB also introduced a new 'Emerging' category for three upcoming players Haider Ali, Mohammad Hasnain and Haris Rauf, while Naseem Shah earned a maiden category C contract.
The PCB also named Babar Azam the new ODI captain, making him the country's white-ball leader.
Yasir Shah, one of the central figures in the Pakistan Test side, was the other player to be demoted from A to B and Imam-ul-Haq was demoted from B to C. Yasir has had a poor run of late in Tests, averaging 75 with 10 wickets from five games since the beginning of 2019. He and Sarfaraz joined Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Abbas and Shadab Khan in the B category along with the trio of Abid Ali, Mohammad Rizwan and Shan Masood who were promoted from C to B, which will fetch the players PKR 750,000 (USD 4700 approx.). Ahmed was the captain in all three formats at the time of the previous contracts but since October 2019 he not only lost his captaincy but was also dropped from the Test side to be replaced by Mohammad Rizwan.
Category C saw two new entrants in Naseem and Iftikhar Ahmed who joined Fakhar Zaman, Imad Wasim, Imam, and Usman Shinwari; this category will help the players earn PKR 550,000 (USD 3400 approx.).
"The philosophy and criteria for this merit-based central contract list was simple and straightforward: the selectors reviewed player performances in the past 12 months and then looked ahead to our team requirements in the forthcoming 12 months," chief selector and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq said in a statement. "I am thankful to the PCB Chairman for supporting our recommendation to give emerging player contracts to Haider, Haris and Hasnain. This is part of our forward-looking strategy and investing in the future, while also encouraging potential future national team players. I am sure this will motivate a number of youngsters in the 2020-21 domestic cricket to perform up to the expected level and earn such incentives."
Amir and Riaz had both retired from Tests last year citing workload management to extend their white-ball careers with Pakistan, and their T20 longevity in leagues around the world. Both were demoted to category C last year only to be left out from the new list this time, which is valid from July 1, 2020 to June 31, 2021.
Over the years, Pakistan have invested significantly in Hasan as he became an automatic pick across formats under previous head coach Mickey Arthur. He made a flying start to his international career after making his Test debut in 2017 until last year when he suffered a slump in form and broke down with injuries. He last played for Pakistan in June 2019 and then missed nearly the entire first-class season at home (played one first-class game only) due a to rib injury. He made a comeback in the PSL in February for Peshawar Zalmi to revive his form but didn't look as convincing with eight wickets in nine games with an economy rate of 8.59 and best figures of 2 for 36.
"The selectors have made the tough decisions to leave out Amir, Hasan and Wahab but considering Hasan missed most of the season due to an injury and Amir and Wahab decided to focus on white-ball cricket, this was the right move," Misbah said. "However, Amir and Wahab are senior and experienced bowlers and they remain in contention as we believe they can still contribute to the Pakistan men's cricket team and also mentor our young battery of fast bowlers."
Naseem, 17, made major strides in international cricket over the last three months, accomplishing records for the youngest to take a Test hat-trick and the youngest fast bowler to a five-wicket haul in Tests. "I am delighted for Naseem and Shaheen who have been well-rewarded for their outstanding performances," Misbah said. "The two teenagers are the future of Pakistan cricket and I have no doubts that if they remain fit and stay focused, they will dominate world cricket for a long time. Their elevation is also a reward for bowling coach Waqar Younis, who has been working tirelessly on them, but there is still a long way to go for the duo and they have to perform consistently at big stages before they can put their cases of classifying them in the league of bowlers such as Waqar."
Iftikhar, 29, considered a formidable allrounder with impressive fielding skills, was recalled into the ODI squad in September last year after a gap of nearly four years. He returned into national reckoning on the back of impressive displays in the Pakistan Cup 50-overs tournament, where he made back-to-back hundreds for Punjab and has since played two Tests, two ODIs and seven T20Is.
"In the list, we have a strong pool of batsmen and bowlers, which will allow us to strategically rotate our players and manage their workloads," Misbah said. "In the meantime, the selectors will continue to keep an eye on the 2020-21 domestic cricket and if they feel strongly that someone needs to be fast tracked into the national side, then we will not hesitate in giving those top performers such opportunities."