Fawad Alam is back in Pakistan's Test squad after more than a decade out of the red-ball team. The left-hand middle-order batsman is part of the 16-member squad that will face Sri Lanka in two Tests in Rawalpindi and Karachi later this month.
Fawad replaced Iftikhar Ahmed, who only managed 44 runs in four innings on the recent tour of Australia. The only other change in the squad was the entry of left-arm quick Usman Shinwari, who has played 17 ODIs and 16 T20Is but is yet to make his Test debut, in place of the 19-year-old Muhammad Musa, who went wicketless in his Test debut in Adelaide.
Naseem Shah, the 16-year-old paceman who played in Brisbane before giving way to Musa, kept his place in the Test squad. Shah has also been named in Pakistan's squad for the Under-19 World Cup, which begins on January 17 in South Africa. He will miss the initial part of the Under-19 squad's preparatory camp in Lahore, and join his team-mates at the end of the Test series.
Kashif Bhatti, the uncapped 33-year-old left-arm spinner who was part of the squad in Australia but didn't get a game, also remained in the squad.
"Our target and our thinking is that we need consistency in the team and the continuity will give player confidence they need," Misbah-ul-Haq, the chief selector and head coach, said at a press briefing. "We don't need a lot of change and we haven't done much either. Overall, only two changes in the squad, which was necessary.
"This series holds a lot of importance in many way as the Sri Lanka series is marking the revival of Test cricket in the country. The results in this series will help us to regain our winning streak, so we have considered many aspects and taken important decisions. I am satisfied the team we have selected is based on a winning combination."
Fawad, 34, began his Test career in November 2009 in Colombo, scoring a second-innings century on debut. He has only played two more Tests since then, however, despite being one of the most prolific scorers, season after season, in Pakistan's domestic cricket. He has also played 38 ODIs and 24 T20Is. His last international appearance was an ODI against Bangladesh in April 2015.
But his runs in the domestic circuit have kept his cause alive. And, in the lead-up to this selection, he made himself almost impossible to ignore: in his last six games for Sindh in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, he's made scores of 92, 1, 29*, 107, 0, 65, 211 and 116.
"It's not that he was written off for any reason or so, but there is a narrow line where decisions are made. We had picked Iftikhar Ahmed because of his strengths and it's not like someone else is overlooked intentionally," Misbah said of Fawad. "We sometimes don't go by numbers, but the ability in certain conditions as well. We needed a player at No. 6 and we think Fawad can fill in.
"His performance isn't about just one season, as he has been performing and maintaining his average for over many seasons. I don't know what happened in the past but for now we are considering him and going to use his form."
One of the concerns for Pakistan in Test cricket has been that Azhar Ali, the captain, and Asad Shafiq, who were expected to take over from Misbah and Younis Khan after they retired, haven't quite been as good as they were when playing with the seniors.
Azhar has scored 763 runs in 15 Tests at an average of 26.31 since Misbah and Younis' retirement, while Shafiq, in the same number of games, has done better, with 1034 runs at an average of 36.92.
"It's a worry, not just about them but for all the players who aren't performing, even if it's a bowler," Misbah said. "There are always some players, who form the nucleus of the team, and I still believe in them. They [Azhar and Shafiq] are senior players. Unfortunately, they are not performing and I don't know what are the reasons. But maybe it's because of the lack of Test cricket for them, probably that's a reason. Because, being a Test specialist, when you get to play after long gap it makes you feel like you are on debut. But their performance is very crucial if we want to lift ourselves in the Test championship."