Shaheen Shah Afridi rested for third Australia Test; Saim Ayub to debut and Imam-ul-Haq dropped

Pakistan vice-captain Shaheen Shah Afridi has been rested for the third and final Test against Australia at the SCG to manage his workload. Saim Ayub will make his Test debut in place of opener Imam-ul-Haq, who struggled in the second Test at the MCG despite scoring a half-century in Perth.
The decision that has been enforced upon the visitors is the continued unavailability of Abrar Ahmed. He bowled in the nets on Monday, but there are lingering doubts about his ability to remain fit over the course of five days, as well as concerns around how his body responds to being Pakistan’s lead spinner and potentially bowling over 50 overs across the Test. Having pulled up with discomfort in his right leg during the Prime Minister’s XI game in Canberra, Pakistan are aware that risking playing him means potentially going down to ten players early into the Test match.
Abrar was subsequently ruled out of each of the Tests, and Sajid Khan, the man flown in as his replacement in Perth, will play his first game of the series. It is the first Test Sajid will play since Australia’s tour of Pakistan in 2022. He fell down the pecking order behind Abrar and Noman Ali since, but injuries to both, as well as Pakistan’s eagerness to play a spinner at the SCG, has seen him return to the side.

Afridi’s absence is the big surprise, with captain Shan Masood praising him for being the leader of the attack just hours earlier. But his lack of pace since his return from injury last year has been the most talked-about aspect of his bowling, his pace rarely rising above the low 130s. In addition, he has had to shoulder greater responsibility in the absence of key frontline bowling partner Naseem Shah, with the absence of Pakistan’s first-choice spinner and an inexperienced fast bowling attack throwing an even greater burden his way. Consequently, he has bowled – by far – more deliveries than any other player across both sides this series, sending down four balls shy of 100 overs. The man in second place on that list is offspinner Nathan Lyon at 69.5 overs.

Imam being dropped to the bench is less of a surprise, not so much for his struggles in Melbourne but how out of touch he looked while at the crease. Masood also stressed the importance of playing attacking cricket, with Imam’s strike rate of 31.22 not quite conducive to that philosophy. While Ayub has limited red-ball experience – the 21-year old has only played 14 first class games – his aggressive disposition is more likely to fall in tune with that brand of cricket.

Australian captain Pat Cummins announced earlier on Tuesday that the hosts were going into the third Test with an unchanged side after having taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in this series.

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