A disagreement between the PCB and Pakistan's leading T20 runscorer in 2020 has seen Mohammad Hafeez excluded from the 20-man squad for the three-match T20I series announced by chief selector Mohammad Wasim at the Gaddafi Stadium on Sunday. Hafeez, in the prime form of his T20 career, developed a deadlock over the date at which he would enter the bio-secure bubble with the rest of the Pakistan squad. Presently playing the T10 league in Abu Dhabi, he requested permission to join the squad on on February 5, something the PCB was unwilling to agree to, with the impasse putting paid to his chance of being involved in the series.
Hafeez had written an email to the PCB, a copy of which ESPNcricinfo has seen, in mid-December last year, alerting the board about the expected "overlapping "of the fixtures between the home series against South Africa and T10 league. He told the PCB he had already committed to playing that league, which would render him unavailable for the T20I series against South Africa, but the PCB selectors continued to attempt to talk him into making himself available by February 3 at the latest. When the two parties failed to agree to that deadline, Hafeez's prospects of being involved against South Africa dwindled.
That relations between the board and the player weren't at their peak was evident from a tweet Hafeez posted immediately after the squad was announced, quoting a religious verse that stated "Allah rewards those who are patient." When ESPNcricinfo contacted him, he declined to comment.
"Unfortunately, the scenario is as such that every player has to join the bio-bubble on Feb 3, and if a player can't do so, it means he is unavailable," Wasim said. "If he was available, there's no question on his performance, but unfortunately he is not available."
Hasan Ali, Asif Ali and Aamer Yamin recalled have all been recalled to the side, with four uncapped players - Zafar Gohar, Danish Aziz, Zahid Mehmood and Amad Butt - named in the squad. Abdullah Shafique, who made his T20I debut in New Zealand, was also dropped, with Wasim saying he believed Shafique was more suitable for the longer versions of the game. Riaz, meanwhile, has paid the price for what Wasim termed was a "lack of consistency" in his game, with the selectors of the view they wanted more reliability from a player of his experience. The 20-year-old fast bowler Musa Khan, who has been with the national side for much of the last two years but struggled to make the step up, picking up 15 wickets at an economy rate of 7.90, has been omitted, with the core fast-bowling unit including Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hasnain, and Shaheen Afridi.
Pakistan continued to pick Sarfaraz Ahmed as a backup option due to sides carrying a larger squad owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. He was originally dropped from all formats over performance in 2019, and has since then missed a major chunk of first class and domestic one-day cricket, playing 21 T20s - PSL and National T20 - averaging 21.26 with bat. Wasim said Sarfaraz's inclusion would be reevaluated after the PSL, with selectors understood to favour 22-year old Azam Khan in the long term.
Pakistan will look to arrest an alarming slide in T20 cricket that began with a series against South Africa two years ago. In February 2019, Pakistan played a three-match series against this opposition ranked number one in the world, having won a world record 11 successive T20I series. A 2-1 reverse to the South Africans broke that streak, and ever since, Pakistan have lost six of the eight series they have played in the format, with the only two wins coming against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe at home.
The squad, along with the officials, will enter the bio-secure bubble from Wednesday, February 3, and the players taking part in the Test series will join the bubble at the end of the second Test that starts in Rawalpindi on Thursday, February 4.
The T20Is will be played at the Gaddafi Stadium on February 11, 13 and 14.
Pakistan squad: Babar Azam, Haider Ali, Khushdil Shah, Hussain Talat, Danish Aziz, Asif Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Nawaz, Zafar Gohar, Faheem Ashraf, Aamer Yamin, Amad Butt, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hasnain, Hasan Ali, Usman Qadir, Zahid Mehmood
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent