KARACHI: The new-look Pakistan cricket squad began its preparations for next week’s first Test against South Africa with an extensive practice session here at the National Stadium on Thursday.
Head coach Misbah-ul-Haq, batting coach Younis Khan and bowling coach Waqar Younis were joined by ex-Pakistan greats Mohammad Yousuf, Saqlain Mushtaq and ex-New Zealand player Grant Bradburn — the coaches at the National High Performance Centre in Lahore — during the four-hour session.
Both Yousuf and Saqlain along with Bradburn, who has been here to observe the domestic matches, are in the city to watch the last phase of the ongoing Pakistan Cup one-day competition. They will be in attendance during the training sessions over the next couple of days.
In what will be Pakistan’s first series after the national side were outplayed 2-0 in New Zealand earlier this month, the pressure is on Misbah and Waqar to turn around the team’s fortunes after both received reprieve following their meeting last week in Lahore with PCB’s Cricket Committee, headed by Saleem Yousuf.
But while both Misbah and Waqar have survived — at least for the South Africa series — the incoming chief selector, Mohammad Wasim, made a drastic overhauling of the squad that went to New Zealand by indicting as many as nine uncapped players in the preliminary 20-man squad for the series against Proteas.
Following a spate of poor performances in the last two tours — to England and New Zealand — Shan Masood, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah — have all been dropped. The new faces in the Test squad, which is expected to be cut to 16 at the weekend, are Imran Butt, Saud Shakeel, Kamran Ghulam, Agha Salman, Abdullah Shafiq, Sajid Khan, Nauman Ali, Tabish Khan and Haris Rauf.
Also returning to the squad after an 18-month absence is the fit-again paceman Hasan Ali — who had been missing from the national team since the 2019 World Cup in England — after showing top form during the recently-concluded Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Hasan’s heroics as captain enabled Central Punjab to play out a thrilling tie in the final against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa earlier this month at the National Stadium, with both teams sharing the first-class title.
Pakistan will continue their training over the next four days at the National Stadium, while the touring South Africa, who arrived in the city last Saturday and had several nets, played an intra-squad practice game at Karachi Gymkhana — which is adjacent to their hotel — on Thursday and are scheduled to play a second fixture on Friday at the same venue.
From Saturday onwards, the Quinton de Kock-led South Africa will start their Test preparations at the National Stadium. On the eve of the first Test, starting on Tuesday, South Africa head coach Mark Boucher will hold a pre-match media conference.
Pakistan captain Babar Azam will be leading the county for the first time in a Test match after missing both Twenty20 and Test series against New Zealand following a thumb injury during a training session in Queenstown.
The second Test will be played in Rawalpindi from Feb 4 before both teams head off to Lahore for three T20 games on Feb 11, 13 and 14 with the tourists to be captained by Heinrich Klaasen in the absence of first-choice stars — including de Kock, Faf du Plessis and Kagiso Rabada, — who are flying back after the final Test to undergo quarantine ahead of South Africa’s home series against Australia.