Pakistan vs England: Babar Azam, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf among home side’s dangermen in Test series

Pakistan welcome England for a Test series for the first time since 2005 and their 18-man squad for the three matches features some surprise inclusions.

Left-arm fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi has missed out due to appendicitis surgery and rehabilitation on his right knee, presenting opportunities for some new names to stake a claim for a regular spot in the Test side, including mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed and paceman Mohammad Ali.

Mohammad Wasim, Zahid Mahmood and Haris Rauf, who has impressed in white-ball cricket, will hope to earn their first Test caps, too.

Thursday 1st December 4:30am

Pakistan’s side still boasts experience, including captain Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Shan Masood, and while the side are sixth in the ICC Test rankings, they will pose a threat to an England side who are embarking on their first international tour under captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum.

Here, Sky Sports takes a look at six of the Pakistan players to watch in the three-match series ahead of the first Test in Rawalpindi, which is live on Sky Sports Cricket on Thursday (4.30am on air, ahead of first ball at 5am).

Haris Rauf

The right-arm quick has impressed in ODI and T20 international cricket, taking 101 wickets in 72 matches, and will likely play a key role in Pakistan’s bowling attack.

Haris Rauf, Pakistan, T20 World Cup (AP Newsroom)
Haris Rauf is in line to make his Test debut against England

With Shaheen out, Babar will likely to turn to Rauf for wickets with the new ball. Rauf is something of a late bloomer in cricket; he was working as a salesman until his mid-20s, but caught the eye with his speed and ability to hit the block hole.

After earning a contract in the Pakistan Super League, Rauf earned a Big Bash League deal and the following year was called up to the national side, where he has gone from strength to strength.

England will know all about Rauf from the T20 series in Pakistan in September. Rauf may take some time to adapt to red-ball cricket, but he will be a danger once he has his feet under the table.

Abrar Ahmed

Another new name in the Pakistan side, Ahmed, is a mystery spin bowler. The 24-year-old can bowl the googly, the carrom ball and deceive batters with his variations.

His standout ability to spin the ball caught the attention of local coaches in Karachi after he took 53 wickets in 2016 in a local league.

Abrar has not previously featured for the national side in any format, but has been on the radar since he started playing in the PSL for the Karachi Kings and might be someone to watch on turning pitches.

Babar Azam

After leading Pakistan to narrow defeats in the seven-match T20 series and T20 World Cup final against England, Babar will captain the Test side, hoping for a more positive outcome.

With over 3,000 Test runs under his belt, the 28-year-old has taken the captaincy in his stride. However, he will need Pakistan to notch some wins in order for them to make a late surge in the World Test Championship.

Babar’s runs are crucial in all formats, but he will need to be at his dynamic best if Pakistan are to have any chance of beating England in the Test series. A lot rests on his shoulders as the No 3-ranked batter in Test cricket.

His innings in the second Test against Australia on home soil in March showed his importance. Pakistan were on course for defeat, but Babar hit a stunning 196, the highest fourth-innings score by a captain in Test history, in batting for over 10 hours to help his team salvage a draw.

Mohammad Ali

At 30, fast bowler Ali has been made to wait for his first call-up to the Test side.

He first emerged on the radar in 2018 when he was the leading wicket-taker in a local tournament, taking 41 wickets in six games and helping his team to the title.

Nicknamed ‘Dizzy’, Ali’s sharp and accurate bowling style has been compared to Jason Gillespie. He plays first-class cricket with Central Punjab in Pakistan and is their leading wicket-taker this year.

The first Test takes place at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, a ground where Ali has enjoyed success, with 27 of his 85 first-class wickets coming at the venue.

Mohammad Rizwan

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Watch Mohammad Rizwan celebrate his half-century against England at the Ageas Bowl in 2020

Rizwan has had a mixed year with the bat in red-ball cricket but impressed in the aforementioned second Test against Australia by hitting 104 not out as Pakistan snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat.

With Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq almost certain to open the batting, Azhar Ali and Babar will likely come in at three and four, so Rizwan seems set to come in at five.

The surprise selection of former captain Sarfaraz Ahmed poses some interesting questions ahead of the first Test.

Rizwan has been an ultra-reliable wicketkeeper-batter in all formats but Pakistan could call on the experience of Sarfaraz behind the stumps and use Rizwan as a specialist batter.

Whatever Rizwan’s role is in the series, Pakistan will look to the 30-year-old for middle-order runs.

Naseem Shah

Despite being just 19, Naseem has a wealth of first-class experience under his belt. The fast bowler made his debut at 15 and was called up to the national side in 2019, aged just 16. He is the second-youngest bowler to take a five-wicket haul in a Test match and has played 13 times for Pakistan, bagging 33 wickets.

His natural, whippy action means he generates pace with consummate ease, but like many young fast bowlers he has been riddled with injuries. He returned to red-ball cricket in the third Test against Australia at Lahore in March and there were no signs of the injuries causing any issues to his pace.

England will have to be wary of his electric speed and without Shaheen, Naseem will be a key bowler for Pakistan.

Watch England’s first Test series in Pakistan since 2005 exclusively live on Sky Sports. Live coverage begins on Thursday from 4.30am on Sky Sports Cricket ahead of the first ball at 5am.

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