Babar Azam ruled out of first New Zealand Test; Rizwan to lead
Pakistan captain Babar Azam and opener Imam-ul-Haq have been ruled out of the first Test starting in Mount Maunganui from December 26, while the tour selection committee has named prolific domestic run-scorer Imran Butt in the 17-player squad.
It is another blow for the Pakistan team in New Zealand, which is facing so far a nightmarish tour. First, they were in the middle of coronavirus controversy and latter lost their captain Babar to injury and consequently lost Twenty20 series quite unceremoniously.
With Babar on sidelines and questionable selection by the outgoing chief selector and head coach Misbahul Haq, Pakistan likely to end the New Zealand tour quite disappointingly without any win.
Babar had fractured his right thumb a day after Imam had fractured his left thumb during training sessions in Queenstown last week. Both are yet to return to nets with the team’s medical staff closely monitoring their progress.
The decision on their participation in the second Test, which commences in Christchurch on 3 January, will be made closer to the time.
Babar’s absence means Mohammad Rizwan will captain the Pakistan side in the first Test. When he will step out for the toss on Saturday, he will become Pakistan’s 33rd captain to lead the side in the traditional format of the game.
Balochistan’s 24-year-old Imran Butt scored 191 runs in the three ongoing four-day first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy matches before joining the New Zealand-bound tour party. He had topped batting charts in the 2019-20 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy with 934 runs at an average of over 62 with four centuries and three half-centuries.
Also returning to the Pakistan Test side are Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, Fawad Alam, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, Shan Masood, Sohail Khan and Yasir Shah.
They will replace Abdullah Shafiq, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hussain Talat, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Musa Khan, Usman Qadir and Wahab Riaz who will now join Pakistan Shaheens for five T20 matches against the local and New Zealand XI sides.
Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez will not be in action on the New Zealand tour after the Napier T20I. Imad will travel to Australia to join Melbourne Renegades in the BBL, while Mohammad Hafeez will return to Pakistan.
Test players to show some form in Pakistan Shaheens’ 89 runs victory over New Zealand ‘A’ include Azhar Ali (58 and 29), Fawad Alam (three and 139), Mohammad Abbas (4-40 and 1-34), Naseem Shah (0-55 and 3-44) and Yasir Shah (3-54 and 2-55).
Separately, Shan Masood has had a successful calendar year with the bat in which he has scored 279 runs, second most after Babar Azam (338). Shan is followed by Azhar Ali (244), Mohammad Rizwan (171) and Abid Ali (131). Yasir Shah is the leading Pakistan bowler this calendar year with 15 wickets, followed by Shaheen Shah Afridi (10), Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah (eight wickets apiece).
Misbah-ul-Haq: “It is disappointing to lose the T20I series against a well-settled New Zealand side, who utilised their resources and conditions to their advantage. We need to upskill and improve our individual and team performances, including in Tuesday’s match, and the sooner we get these sorted the better it will be in term of player confidences and team results as 2021 will not be any easier as we have two major events.
“Contrary to the T20I side, the Test side appears to be pretty organised and we boast some experienced cricketers, both in batting and bowling departments. With some competitive cricket on the tour now under the belt, I am hoping we will be a better outfit in the longer version of the game. Although it will be nearly two weeks to Babar’s injury when the first Test starts, it will be hard on him and the team to play him without any net sessions. I remain confident and optimistic that other players will rise to the occasion in Mount Maunganui and use the opportunity to rise to the occasion and put the disappointment of the T20I series behind them.”
Squad: Mohammad Rizwan (captain for 1st Test), Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Sohail, Imran Butt, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shan Masood, Sohail Khan and Yasir Shah