Pakistan vs South Africa 1st Test Preview: Babar, Hasan set to return as Pakistan look to make the most of home conditions
Pakistan have named six rookies in their retained 17-member squad and will have to pick either Saud Shakeel or Mohammad Nawaz and one between Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan.
New-look Pakistan squad
New chief selector Mohammad Wasim took several big calls as he named his first squad. The 20-strong squad for the South Africa series is without Shan Masood, Mohammad Abbas and Haris Sohail and includes Harish Rauf, Imran Butt, Kamran Ghulam and Salman Ali Agha.
Shadab Khan misses out due to a groin strain. Naseem Shah is still recovering from a hamstring injury while Imam-ul-Haq has not yet recovered from the thumb injury he sustained on the tour of New Zealand.
The management was supposed to whittle down the squad to 16 members before the first test but after a close call between Haris Rauf and Tabish Khan, they decided to name a 17-member squad instead for the first test match, which retains six rookies.
With Babar back, Pakistan's top 5 looks settled
With only Abid Ali and Imran Butt finding a place in the shortened squad, it is certain that the two will take the field as Pakistan's openers in the first test match, which means that Abdullah Shafique misses out. The middle order looks quite settled with Azhar Ali and Babar Azam taking their spots at number 3 and number 4 respectively. Fawad Alam, after a brilliant century in New Zealand, is set to retain his spot at number 5.
There will be a face off between Saud Shakeel and Mohammad Nawaz for the number 6 spot. While the inclusion of Mohammad Nawaz would provide Pakistan a spin bowling all-round option, Saud Shakeel, who has the second best first class average of 48.81 in Pakistan over the last five years also stakes his claim for a spot in the playing XI. Pakistan are likely to go with the experience of Nawaz.
Hasan Ali to bolster bowling attack
Yasir Shah will be the leading spinner for Pakistan while they are expected to pick one between Northern's Nauman Ali and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Sajid Khan. The team has four pace bowling options in Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Tabish Khan.
Hasan Ali, who last played a test match in January 2019, incidentally against South Africa at Johannesburg, is all set to return after he finished as the Player of the Tournament in the recently concluded Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. He not only was the highest wicket-taker with 43 wickets at 20.06 but also showed his potential with the bat, scoring a brilliant century in the tied final.
Pakistan would do well to utilise not only his bowling form but a few useful runs lower down the order. He will be accompanied by Pakistan's premium pace bowler Shaheen Afridi who has been in red-hot form over the last couple of years.
SA face the Mulder v Linde question
South Africa will not make a lot of changes to their playing XI which took the field in the second test match at home against Sri Lanka. Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram will continue to open the batting for the side.
Given the spin-friendly conditions of Pakistan, they will have to bench Wiaan Mulder in favour of the spin bowling all-rounder George Linde. Keshav Maharaj will be the leading spinner for South Africa while Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada will be their top two pace bowlers.
It is up to the South African management to decide whether they want to go in with an extra pace bowling option or an extra spinner. This is what will decide who between Lungi Ngidi and Tabraiz Shamsi makes the cut.
While South Africa currently look like the more settled unit, it will take something special from them to beat Pakistan in their home conditions.
Here's the probable playing XI of both teams:
Pakistan - Abid Ali, Imran Butt, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam (c), Fawad Alam, Saud Shakeel/Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Nauman Ali/Sajid Khan, Yasir Shah, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi
South Africa - Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock (c & wk), Temba Bavuma, George Linde, Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi/Tabraiz Shamsi
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