Sharjeel Khan picked for New Zealand tour

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Pakistan's Sharjeel Khan bats during a training session at Punjab Cricket Association Cricket Stadium in Mohali on March 21, 2016. / AFP / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Sharjeel Khan, the opening batsman, has earned a maiden call-up to the Pakistan Test squad for the tour of New Zealand.

Sharjeel, 27, has been a regular presence for Pakistan at the top of the order in limited-overs cricket in 2016, having scored a bruising 152 off 86 balls against Ireland in August.

Sharjeel has 4853 first-class runs at an average of 37.91 with 11 hundreds and 21 fifties. He came into contention for Test cricket after scoring 96 and 82 not out in successive innings in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.

There was one more uncapped player among the 16 that were chosen – middle-order batsman Mohammad Rizwan. He was with the team in England in July 2016, but was left out for the subsequent Tests against West Indies in the UAE.

Zulfiqar Babar has been dropped. With neither Christchurch nor Hamilton – the venues for the two Tests against New Zealand – known for producing turning pitches, Pakistan were content to partner Yasir Shah with left-arm spinning allrounder Mohammad Nawaz, who made his debut in the Pakistan’s first day-night Test in October; his first-class credentials include three centuries and 49 wickets from 31 matches. Zulfiqar, though the better bowler, only averages 16 with the bat in first-class cricket.

Pakistan have tried six opening combinations since the start of 2015, including playing the final Test of the England tour and the entire West Indies series with only one specialist – Sami Aslam, who has been retained. Azhar Ali was promoted up the order and scored his maiden triple-century from that position in October. With Sharjeel, who has opened the batting in all but two of his 76 first-class matches, coming into the squad, Azhar could perhaps return to his usual No. 3 position.

Younis Khan, captain Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, touted as one of Pakistan’s most technically proficient batsmen, and wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed make for a strong middle order. There is also Babar Azam, who made his Test debut in October following three successive ODI centuries.

On the fast bowling front, Pakistan have three left-arm quicks in Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir and Rahat Ali to go with right-arm seamers Sohail Khan and Imran Khan.

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