Pressure is mounting on the Pakistan management, with head coach Misbah-ul-Haq in the firing line this time. He has maintained that fitness standards will not be compromised on for anyone looking to work their way into the national side, insisting that Sharjeel Khan's selection isn't a compromise on fitness but a player picked with everyone's consent.
Since the changing of the chief selector, fitness has been downgraded as a criterion for picking players, allowing Sharjeel and Azam Khan most notably to come into contention. The previous head coach Mickey Arthur had an uncompromising view on fitness standards and what they meant for a player's selection, but those have become less of a priority over the past few years. The fitness parameters are clearly mandated in players' contracts, and the head coach insisted they were not being done away with or eroded.
"We are not bringing the standards of fitness down," Misbah said during a virtual press conference a day before leaving for South Africa. "We have had detailed discussions about it with all trainers and National High-performance center coaches. Certain targets to players can be customised, such as whether they are overweight, their fat level, endurance level - we will simplify it but we will not lower the standards. We will look at ground fitness and match fitness. It's not like if before we had a benchmark of 18 in the yo-yo test that we will bring it down to 15 or 14. That's not happening.
"There was great discussion on him and his role in the team. How we will bring him in fitness and his on-field performance and standards of our fitness. We were in agreement that we will plan and allocate the time he is with us. We got everyone to play domestic cricket and it was a busy and tough year all around with Covid-19. But now we have time and hopefully, you will see that his fitness will get better. Otherwise, we have an understanding with National High-Performance Centre that if there are issues around certain players' fitness, they be referred to the HPC so that both skills and fitness level can be worked upon simultaneously."
Sharjeel's selection has become a contentious issue, with numerous factors counting against his inclusion. He was among a slew of players found guilty of spot-fixing in the PSL in 2017, and alongside Khaled Latif, handed the longest sanction: a five-year ban (half of it suspended in the left-handed batsman's case). Upon expiry of the ban, he returned to fierce criticism from PCB CEO Wasim Khan, not normally known for singling out players, lambasting him for turning up to the PSL unfit.
Misbah was also drawn on Sharjeel's past with respect to the spot-fixing saga, but the head coach maintained all rules were being followed, and he had completed his sentence. Misbah insisted Shrjeel's case was different to the ones involving Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt.
"There is a law that allows players to play after serving punishment," Misbah said. "I don't know why others didn't get picked and what were the reasons back then and I don't want to go into details. But when there is no law to stop them from being picked, then we have no authority to stop them from being picked. If there was such a law that said you can't pick a tainted player, then it would be clear and they wouldn't be picked. If they can play then why not."
Pakistan's 35 member-squad, including 22 players, is set to depart for South Africa, having tested negative for Covid-19. The team is set to leave for Johannesburg on Friday morning on a chartered flight. Pakistan will play three ODIs followed by four T20Is from April 2 to April 16. The side will then depart for Harare for three T20Is and two Tests, against Zimbabwe, before returning home on May 12.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent