On Tuesday, the National Stadium Karachi will host a historic clash between Pakistan and South Africa as the Proteas are all set to play cricket in Pakistan after a gap of 13 years. After getting beaten by New Zealand comprehensively, Pakistan is coming into the series, while South Africa is high on confidence with a 2-0 victory over Sri Lanka. Many consider this as a start of a new era for Pakistan as Babar Azam is all set to make his Test debut as captain.

After the New Zealand disappointment, the newly appointed Chairman selector, Muhammad Wasim made some drastic changes in the squad. The domestic performers were rewarded for their hard work as nine uncapped players were selected in a squad of 20. Yesterday, while stripping it down to 17, Kamran Ghulam, Abdullah Shafique and Salman Ali Agha were dropped from the first Test however they will remain with the side and will practice under the team management.

The question now arises; is the Pakistani team management and especially the head coach Misbah-ul-Haq serious about giving the youngsters a chance? As far as the batting is concerned Imran Butt and Saud Shakeel are the two contenders left to make it in the top seven on Tuesday, but knowing Misbah’s orthodox approach in the past, there are doubts whether they will be given a final go in the eleven.

From last week or so, there has been a lot of chatter about opening with Azhar Ali for the series to make space for an all-rounder at number 7. This move can potentially block Imran Butt’s place in the eleven who has been knocking on the doors of the national team for quite some time. While representing Balochistan in the 2019-20 season in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, he was the highest run-scorer with 934 runs. He was a part of Pakistan’s squad on the New Zealand tour but spent time on the sidelines.

When looking at Azhar Ali, it is evident that he has had a good spell as an opener. From October 2016 to March 2017, he scored 1,256 runs in 11 innings with a triple century against West Indies. And even with his dodgy knee and fading reflexes, this move might work due to lack of swing and pace on subcontinent pitches, but it takes away an opportunity to groom a youngster for the future. At best, Azhar might have 2-3 years of cricket left in him but what happens when Pakistan tour South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia next. In those conditions, players need their best to cope with the pace and swing.

If we look at Misbah’s captaincy career, he has been a captain who resists change and prefers a continuity in the squad. Throughout Pakistan’s dominance in the UAE from 2010-2017, Pakistan fielded the same middle order with Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq and Misbah. The only change was seen in one of the fast bowlers citing their workload or at the top of the order.

Last week, we saw India pull off a miraculous series win Down Under. Without their regular captain and best batsmen Virat Kohli, with a battered and bruised team with 11 injuries, they somehow managed to knock off Australia. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara were the only two players who featured in all four Tests. They had no choice but to back their youngsters, and they fulfilled the promise. Maybe it is time for Misbah and company to look at this template set by the neighbours.

Coming towards Pakistan’s bowling; the 17-member squad shortlisted for the first Test has four uncapped bowlers. Tabish Khan, Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan may be unknown at the international stage, but they have a wealth of experience in Pakistan’s domestic circuit. Hasan Ali is back in the squad after 18 months. Yasir Shah is probably the most experienced bowler in the side, but his performances have been below par in the last 2 years. In New Zealand, he had no rhythm or bite in his bowling. In the first Test, he conceded 113 runs in 37 overs in the first innings. He bowled just 6 overs in the second innings and was dropped from the second Test.

Sajid Khan and Nauman Ali finished the recently concluded season of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy as the leading wicket-takers. Sajid bagged 67 wickets for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while the left-arm spinner from Northern took 61 for Northern. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, the whole season was played in Karachi, so they have the best idea to bowl on this pitch, unlike Yasir Shan. It will be interesting to see whether both new spinners will be given a go or Yasir Shah will retain his place.

Shaheen Shah has been Pakistan’s most successful bowler across formats and will be an automatic selection. Will the management give a chance to Tabish Khan, a domestic veteran of 598 wickets. Hailing from Sindh and playing most of his cricket in the National Stadium, none knows this pitch better. Coming back to India, in the last Test they played with a bowling attack that had combined 11 Test wickets among them.

Attack is the best form of defence; Misbah and the coaching staff are already under pressure from all circles. Maybe it is time for the team management to start believing in these youngsters and give them a license to play fearless cricket regardless of the results and who knows it might turn out to be a masterstroke.


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