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Cricket news - Pakistan rest key players for Australia ODIs

Shoaib Malik will lead the side in Sarfraz's absence.

To keep their mainstays fresh for the all-important World Cup in England this year, Pakistan, after an exhaustive five months of cricket, have rested as many as six players, including their captain Safraz Ahmed, for the five-match ODI series against Australia beginning March 22. For his impressive run in the ongoing Pakistan Super League (PSL), Umar Akmal, along with Haris Sohail, Junaid Khan, and Yasir Shah has been recalled to the national squad. In the absence of Sarfraz Ahmed, Shoaib Malik will lead the side.

Pakistan have been on the road since the Asia Cup in September last year playing home series against Australia and New Zealand in the UAE, and then touring South Africa from December to February. Ten days after the conclusion of the tour, Pakistan's players were in the UAE for the PSL. The players who have received off time from international duty for the Australia series are Sarfaraz, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan and Shaheen Shah Afridi.

Mohammad Hafeez, recovering from a thumb injury, and Hussain Talat are the other two players from the ODI series against South Africa (which Pakistan lost 3-2) to have been left out.

"The changes have been made taking into consideration the player workload in the build up to the World Cup," said Inzamam ul Haq, chairman of the national selection committee, on Friday (March 8). "Apart from five ODIs against Australia, we have three warm-up games followed by five ODIs against England. This is too much cricket in a short period of time. Had there been no pre-World Cup matches in England, then we would not have made these many changes.

"The series against the world champions will not be an easy one and these players, in fact, will be tested to their limits. This will provide these players a great opportunity to display their skills and temperament, strengthening their claims for a World Cup call-up as there are a few places up for grabs."

The decision to include Yasir has been taken to keep their wrist-spin options open ahead of the World Cup. Sohail and Junaid have been recalled after regaining fitness. Akmal has forced the selectors to consider him ahead of the World Cup with two fifties in eight innings during the ongoing PSL for Quetta Gladiators. In total, he has scored 228 runs at an average over 30.

"Haris Sohail and Junaid Khan have been drafted in the side after they have regained complete match fitness, while Yasir Shah has been included in the side keeping in mind that we may opt to select two wrist spinners in the World Cup squad.

"Umar Akmal, we all know, is immensely talented and still has plenty to offer. Sometimes, time away from international cricket allows a player to recompose and gather himself, and come back strongly. I hope this happens with this player, as a fully fit and in-form Umar will bolster the middle-order."

Pakistan have also given maiden call-ups to four players, including their spearhead pacer in Tests Mohammad Abbas. The other three include opening batsman Abid Ali, middle-order batsman Saad Ali, and 18-year-old pace sensation Mohammad Hasnain.

"Mohammad Abbas, we think, will be a handy and wicket-taking bowler in English conditions as he has regularly made the new ball do the talking," Inzamam said. "We were unable to try him in South Africa due to his shoulder injury, so this is his chance to show that he can be as effective and lethal with the new ball in ODI cricket as he is in the longer format."

Squad: Shoaib Malik (c), Abid Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Saad Ali, Shan Masood, Umar Akmal, Usman Shinwari, Yasir Shah

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