Pakistan have recalled offspinner Bilal Asif into their Test squad, in a bid to counter what is expected to be a left-hander heavy Bangladesh line-up, for the first game in Rawalpindi. Seam-bowling allrounder Faheem Ashraf also returned to the squad after having been ignored for the team’s most recent Test series at home against Sri Lanka.
Both Asif and Ashraf weren’t part of the Test squad that toured Australia in 2019, but have now made comebacks in place of left-arm fingerspinner Kashif Bhatti and left-arm quick Usman Shinwari. Asif was the second-highest wicket-taker in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, with 43 strikes in nine games, in Central Punjab’s run to the title. Meanwhile, Ashraf, his Central Punjab team-mate, had taken eight wickets in three games in addition to making 118 runs at an average of 59 and strike rate of 90.07. Six of those wickets came in the final after he had missed six successive matches because of a groin injury.
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An offspinner, who can turn the ball sharply and generate extra bounce, Asif has played five Tests so far, collecting 16 wickets, including a six-wicket haul on debut against Australia in Dubai in 2018. Ashraf last played a Test in January 2019 in Johannesburg.
“The Test team is in good shape after winning the last Test against Sri Lanka,” coach-cum-selector Misbah-ul-Haq said. “But now we have a different opponent, we haven’t made a lot of changes and have made only two changes. We went with four fast bowlers in the last Test in Pindi (Rawalpindi) and that’s why we have included an allrounder (Ashraf) if we get the same conditions.
“Bilal Asif has been brought in because of left-handers and it gives us a different option if we need it. In the last series against Sri Lanka, if we consider the wicketkeeper as a batsman, we needed a bowler at No. 7 who can bat. Faheem took five wickets in the final and gives you cushion to score runs too, but we consider him as a bowler. We will try to play with an experienced team in the Test matches; we have a settled batting line-up but have also have back-ups.”
The first Test will take place in Rawalpindi from February 7 to 11, and Bangladesh will then return to the country in April to play a solitary ODI and the second Test, both in Karachi. The Pakistan Super League, also to be played in Pakistan in its entirety, will be played between the second and third legs of Bangladesh’s tour. The first leg included a three-match T20I series, in January, which Pakistan won 2-0, after the third match was washed out.
Both Tests will be part of the ICC Test Championship, where Pakistan are currently placed fourth, with 80 points from four games.
Misbah rued the lengthy gap between the two Tests and said that it could disrupt the “rhythm” of the players.
“It’s very difficult not only for me but for the players too,” Misbah said. “If the player has scored a century in his last Test and then plays after a gap, it’s too difficult. When you play back-to-back Test series it gives you rhythm. It’s a very tricky situation for the team when you play with a gap of two-three months.”