I still remember that in a side match during the South Africa’s tour of Pakistan in 1997-98, a not-so-famous youngster Ali Naqvi was given a chance to play in the captaincy of Amir Sohail.

Ahmed Shehzad
Naqvi made the most of the chance by scoring a century in the second innings. His hundred earned him a chance to play a Test against the Proteas.

Luck continued to smile on him in Rawalpindi stadium where he played a triple-figure innings in his debut against the bowlers like Alan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis, Brett Schultz and Pat Symcox.

In the past when the national team needed a batsman to open with Saeed Anwar, the Pakistan Cricket Board arranged a side match for it. Ali Naqvi and Mohammad Ramzan were trialed in that match.

Now, after 16 years, the history is repeating itself as the Ahmed Shahzad and Shan Masood will try to perform in the side match against South Africa to earn a place in the Test squad.

Shehzad is undoubtedly talented. Masood too performed well at the domestic level which gave him the opportunity to tour Zimbabwe. Both are skilled. And this very equality has become a double-edged sword for them as they have to deliver in the three-day practice match to get a place in the final squad.

Pakistan A team captain Umar Amin has decided to field first in the side match. Both openers might have only single innings to prove themselves for the selection. It would not be easy for them to play under pressure against the team like South Africa. And whoever of them will get a chance he must be prepared for more pressure in the five-day match, without the support of a senior opener.

Shehzad or Masoood, whoever succeeds in performing well in the debut will be playing in the next series. Otherwise their future will be in doubt because if they failed to perform, Tufeeq Umar, Imran Farhat, Nasir Jamshed or Mohammad Hafeez will be recalled against Sri Lanka.

Though it’s a good decision by the selection committee to try young openers, but the timing is not good. The right time for trials was the tour of Zimbabwe when newcomers could be tested in place of Hafeez Even in Lahore’s three-day match selectors could have taken the trial for three positions but they missed that chance too.

If it was decided to exclude Hafeez then it would be much better to announce the squad before the practice match. It is wrong to think that Zulfiqar Babar was selected due to his performance. Even if he did not claim six wickets in the match, he had to be selected as a left-spinner who was struggling to get a place in Test after proving himself in ODIs and T20s.

So, Masood and Shehzad must be assured before the match that they would be included in the final 15-man squad. By doing that both guys had a chance to play in comfortable conditions and whoever delivered will be playing in Sharjah for three-day match much comfortably.

But now, both openers are not sure whether they would play in Tests against South Africa. And interestingly, if both performed well then they had to wait for their luck. And if Shehzad and Masood failed to play well in the side match then will the team management give them a chance to play or give chance to Umar Amin and Ali once again?
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