Pakistan select Mohammad Rizwan ahead of Sarfaraz Ahmed for Boxing Day Test against Australia

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It follows a difficult Perth Test for Sarfaraz, particularly with the bat, after he scored 7 runs across both innings, struggling particularly against Mitchell Starc’s pace.
It’s one of at least three changes Pakistan will make for the second Test at the MCG after they named a 12-man squad, which will be cut to 11 on matchday. Khurram Shahzad has been ruled out of the series while all-rounder Faheem Ashraf will also miss out after a poor test with bat and ball, with Pakistan to take a final call on the sort of combination they play with.
There is a possibility, however faint, that the visitors line up with another all-seam attack, which leaves Sajid Khan, named in the 12, out. That, however, is believed to be a remote possibility, with Sajid and one of Hasan Ali and Mir Hamza getting the nod considered much more probable. Mohammad Wasim Jnr was not part of the trimmed squad, so the pace bowling debate comes down to Hasan and Hamza.
However, it is Sarfaraz’s omission that remains the most significant. His inclusion for the first Test received significant scrutiny because of his historical record in Australia and on similar, bouncy surfaces, only exacerbated by how the Perth Test went. At the time Pakistan team director and coach Mohammad Hafeez pushed back against suggestions playing Sarfaraz was a mistake, saying it wasn’t right to label Sarfaraz as “someone who can only perform in a limited set of conditions”.
But with Pakistan dropping him three Tests on from one of his career-defining batting performances in a very different set of conditions, that is precisely what Pakistan have done. Captain Shan Masood, in the captains’ Christmas Day press conference, said Sarfaraz had been given the nod in Perth despite what the numbers said because of his red-ball form in domestic cricket in Pakistan, and the intensity and commitment he brought to every game.

“I wouldn’t think that that one change would have changed the whole course of the game,” Masood said. “The reason to play Sarfaraz was pretty much the same [as the reason to play Aamer Jamal and Khurram Shahzad]. People go back to stats and Rizwan averages very well in SENA. Firstly there’s no competition between the two. They’re equally important to the team. Any competition they have is healthy competition. We know what Rizwan has done but we gave Sarfaraz the benefit because he averaged 56.50 on his last tour here in 2016. Yes, that’s been quite a while but he’s also played red-ball consistently in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy in the last few years.

“Rizwan just came from the World Cup, a lot of white-ball cricket. And he also had a gap in red-ball cricket since Sarfaraz took over from him for the New Zealand series. Sarfaraz had an outstanding performance there and Rizwan hadn’t played a lot of red-ball cricket. So there was a method to it. He’s been there, he played red-ball cricket. Karachi had a very good season where he was the tournament’s MVP, and that allowed us to get a player like Rizwan into shape. If I had it my way, I’d ideally like both to play but that’s not possible. Now we think Rizwan is ready and we can give Saifi that little bit of break to recuperate and come back.”

Despite the extensive build-up to the Test – Pakistan arrived in Melbourne a full week out from Boxing Day – they have spent relatively little time out at the MCG. A training session on the 21st was followed up by a two-day practice game at the Junction Oval. Pakistan rested on the 24th, and heavy rain forced both sides to conduct their training session indoors today. Masood explained that was part of the reason Pakistan had named a 12, rather than 11, to enable them one final look at the surface.

“Our last look at the pitch was on the 21st,” he said. “Then we went to the Junction Oval and we rested yesterday, and then it’s been raining today. So I think we should be a bit sensible. Make sure that we have a full look at the pitch and let’s say if we need to play a certain kind of bowler or batsman then we will make that decision.”

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