Danyal Rasool and Umar Farooq
Babar Azam has recovered sufficiently to take over the Test captaincy from Mohammad Rizwan, who deputised for the batsman in New Zealand, where Pakistan lost both Test matches. He is set to take charge of the red-ball side for the first time, and has been handed a squad which could feature several first-timers, with new chief selector Mohammad Wasim ringing the changes in the first squad he has been tasked with naming.
Once the No.1-ranked ODI bowler in the world, Hasan Ali is back in the Test side after a supremely successful Quaid-e-Azam Trophy season, which ended with him being named player of the tournament. The 26-year-old Central Punjab bowler took more wickets than any other quick all season, with 43 at 20.06 per scalp.
After a number of years out of the game with a back injury which still needs careful tending to, Ali has appeared to regain the yard of pace he lost through 2019 and 2020, which resulted in him losing his central contract and dropping out of Pakistan contention completely. Moreover, Pakistan have struggled with runs lower down the order, and Ali's ability with the bat - he scored a hundred in the final of the QeA Trophy - looks set to count in his favour.
27-year-old offspinner Sajid Khan gets a call-up to the senior side for the first time after finishing the QeA season as the most prolific wicket-taker, with 67 for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Yasir Shah, Nauman Ali and allrounder Mohammad Nawaz are the other spinners in the squad, while 36-year old Sindh fast bowler Tabish Khan has a shot at a possible late-career bloom should his domestic form be rewarded with a Test cap.
With Masood struggling badly for runs since scoring 156 in Manchester in the first Test against England last summer - he managed only 33 runs in his following eight innings, including four ducks - one of Abdullah Shafique or Imran Butt looks set for a Test match debut this series. Imam-ul-Haq's ongoing thumb injury means there's a vacancy at the top alongside Abid Ali, and with both Shafique and Butt part of the squad that travelled to New Zealand, they both have a clear opportunity to press their claim for that slot.
The tour of South Africa comes at a time when head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis find their positions under further scrutiny than at any time since their appointments 18 months ago. Earlier this week, the PCB cricket committee met to analyse the team's performances, terming them disappointing, and resolved to meet again following the series against South Africa.
Significantly, this is the same committee that put an end to Mickey Arthur and Grant Flower's tenure as head coach and batting coach respectively in 2019, and retains the power to recommend changes once more if they feel they are merited. The decision to meet after the series is viewed as the clearest indication that the fates of several members of the team management could hinge on its outcome.
The 20-man squad will be whittled down to 16 in the coming days. The South African side is set to arrive in Pakistan on a chartered flight tomorrow (January 16) and will be tested for Covid-19 upon arrival and form a bio-secure bubble for the duration of the tour. They will quarantine until January 20, when they will be tested again before a decision is taken on when the side begins training.
The first Test begins on January 26 in Karachi, with the second on February 4 in Rawalpindi. The sides are then set to play three T20Is in Lahore to round off the tour.
Pakistan Test squad Abid Ali, Abdullah Shafique, Imran Butt, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam (c), Fawad Alam, Kamran Ghulam, Salman Ali Agha, Saud Shakeel, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Yasir Shah, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Tabish Khan