Middle-order batsmen Asif Ali and Khushdil Shah were picked despite not having "impressive numbers" in Pakistan's 15-strong squad for next month's T20 World Cup even as the experienced duo of Fakhar Zaman and wicket-keeper Sarfaraz Ahmed were left out. (More Cricket News)
The Babar Azam-led squad will also play in upcoming T20Is against New Zealand and England before the World Cup.
The seven home T20Is in Lahore and Rawalpindi will be played from September 25 to October 14 before Pakistan takes on arch-rivals India in their T20 World Cup opener in Dubai on October 24. The T20 World Cup gets underway from October 17 in the UAE and Oman.
Asif played his last T20I against Zimbabwe in April and averages 16.38 in 29 matches with a strike-rate of 123.74, while left-handed batsman Khushdil averages 21.6 in 9 matches. He last played a T20I against South Africa in Lahore.
"Asif Ali and Khushdil Shah may not have impressive numbers against their names but hardly anyone can doubt their tremendous talent and prowess," Chief selector Muhammad Wasim said in a release.
"They are the best in the available pool of middle-order batsmen and we remain confident that they will provide us solutions to our middle-order difficulties through solid performances."
The squad includes five batters (Asif, Babar Azam, Khushdil, Mohammad Hafeez and Sohaib Maqsood), two wicketkeeper-batters (Azam Khan and Mohammad Rizwan), four all-rounders (Imad Wasim, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Wasim Jnr and Shadab Khan) and four fast bowlers (Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Hasnain and Shaheen Shah Afridi).
Arshad Iqbal, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Sharjeel Khan and Usman Qadir, who were a part of the Pakistan squad for the T20I series in England and West Indies, have been left out.
Zaman, Qadir and Shahnawaz Dahani have been named as travelling reserves. However, Sarfaraz has been completely omitted.
"Azam Khan is an aggressive and attacking batter who also keeps wickets, a combination that has earned him the selectors' nod ahead of Sarfaraz Ahmed," Wasim said.
"Mohammad Wasim Junior has been preferred over Faheem Ashraf due to his pace and ability to hit big shots. Wasim will bolster the fast bowling unit, which comprises Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Hasnain and Shaheen Shah Afridi."
Wasim said Zaman, Dahani and Qadir were unlucky to miss out on the selections.
"Sohaib Maqsood's ability to bat and perform anywhere in the top-order has given him an edge over Fakhar, while the presence of three experienced spinners, who are also capable batters, and five genuine wicket-taking fast bowlers made it difficult for Usman Qadir to get into the side," he said.
"Like Faheem, an uncapped Shahnawaz was tied with Mohammad Wasim Junior, but we opted for the latter due to his pace and batting abilities.
The chief selector said the experience of playing in the UAE will hold the players in good stead and Pakistan will look to do well in the home T20 series to carry the momentum into the showpiece event.
"Most of these players know the United Arab Emirates conditions better than others as they propelled Pakistan to number-one in the ICC T20I rankings after winning 21 out of 36 matches (13 loses and two no-results)," he said.
"In the lead up to the event proper, they will play seven T20Is at home, which will take their overall tally of T20Is in 2021 to 24 – most by any participating country.
The Squad: Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan (vc), Asif Ali, Azam Khan, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Sohaib Maqsood.
Travelling reserves: Fakhar Zaman, Shahnawaz Dahani and Usman Qadir.