Pakistan have named a 20-man squad to play Bangladesh in a two-Test series beginning on November 26, and one of the headlines is the inclusion of Imam-ul-Haq.
The left-hander is back in the set-up as Pakistan try and tackle an issue in their batting line-up: their opening partnership.
Since Imam played the last of his 11 Tests in December 2019, Pakistan have tried out two different opening partnerships: Abid Ali and Shan Masood were joined together before Masood was replaced by Imran Butt.
In just their third innings together as an opening pair, Abid and Masood put on 278 against Sri Lanka, the second-highest opening stand for Pakistan in Tests and a huge sign of promise. But that proved to be the only time they reached 50 in 13 innings together, with Masood’s form tailing away significantly at the end of 2020.
In came Butt, but his six Test appearances this year have resulted in just 178 runs at an average of 17.80. While he put on 70 inside 10 overs with Abid in his last Test appearance to help set up a victory over West Indies at Kingston, Butt’s lack of runs has brought that partnership to a close for now.
Abid himself has been a qualified success since he was handed his Test debut in December 2019, replacing Imam at the top of the order. After two hundreds in his first three innings, one half-century followed across series against England, New Zealand and South Africa. 275 runs across two innings against Zimbabwe earlier this year marked a return to form, and an average of 43.66 after 14 Tests remains a worthy achievement.
Can Imam join Abid up top to form an effective opening partnership against Bangladesh? Abdullah Shafique, a 22-year-old opener who made a first-class hundred against Sri Lanka A earlier this month, is also in the playing group, but Imam’s recent run of form at first-class level could prove hard to ignore.
Five innings in the 2021/22 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy have seen Imam rack up two hundreds and two half-centuries, leaving him with 448 runs at an average of 162.66. Alongside the discarded Butt, Imam put on 227 for the first wicket against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for Balochistan earlier this month, and he eventually finished unbeaten on 202.
So far in his Test career, there’s not much been to shout about for the 25-year-old left-hander. He hit an unbeaten 74 on debut against Ireland three years ago, but just two more half-centuries followed across his next 10 appearances.
Nonetheless, he has managed to find success at international level courtesy of his stellar ODI record. Forty-six ODI appearances since his debut in October 2017 have resulted in 2,023 runs at an average of 49.34, including seven hundreds. Among opening batters for Pakistan in ODI cricket, only Saeed Anwar (20), Ramiz Raja (8) and Salman Butt (8) have made more hundreds. Back in January 2019, he became the second-fastest man to reach 1,000 ODI runs, taking just 19 knocks to reach the milestone. His average has since fallen but of those to have opened in as many or more ODI innings as Imam, only three men hold a higher batting average: Rohit Sharma, Jonny Bairstow and Hashim Amla.
Now the quest is for his ODI success to translate into form against the red ball.