LAHORE-Young pacer Naseem Shah was awarded a maiden category C contract while fast bowler Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali were dropped from the centrally-contracted players list, announced by Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) here on Wednesday.

Total 18 players in three categories received central contracts, who will get their monthly salaries and benefits for 12 months. The central contract list for the 2020-21 season will come into effect from July 1. In a virtual talk with sports journalists, Chief Selector and Head Coach Misbah-ul-Haq said: “The philosophy and criteria for this merit-based central contract list was simple and straightforward: the selectors reviewed player performances in the past 12 months and then looked ahead to our team requirements in the forthcoming 12 months.”

The PCB confirmed Azhar Ali as Test skipper and Babar Azam as ODI and T20I captain for the period, during which Pakistan is scheduled to play nine Tests, six ODIs and 20 T20Is, besides the Asia Cup and the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. “I want to congratulate Azhar Ali and Babar Azam for getting captaincy extensions,” said Misbah.

“This is absolutely the right decision as they also require certainty and clarity on their future roles. I am sure they will now start looking to the future and start planning so that they can build sides that can perform at the expected levels,” chief selector and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq said this during a videoconference organised by the PCB.

Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz have missed out on central contracts but will remain in contention for selection in what will be a busier cricket season as compared to the one that has just concluded. “The selectors have made the tough decisions to leave out Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali and Wahab Riaz but considering Hasan missed most of the season due to an injury and Amir and Wahab decided to focus on white-ball cricket, this was the right move.

“However, Amir and Wahab are senior and experienced bowlers and they remain in contention as we believe they can still contribute to the Pakistan men’s cricket team and also mentor our young battery of fast bowlers,” said the chief selector.

Former captain Sarfraz Ahmed and leg spinner Yasir Shah were demoted from A to B category while Imam-ul-Haq was demoted from B to C category. Sarfraz also lost his ODI captaincy to Babar Azam, who also leads the national team in Twenty20 internationals.

“Rizwan has been promoted to Category B after being a regular member of the side, while Sarfraz has been placed in Category B as he very much features in our future plans. We have some tough cricket lined up over the next 12 months where we will potentially require Sarfraz’s knowledge and experience.

Naseem became the youngest Test bowler in history to take a fifer and a hat-trick in consecutive Tests against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in Karachi and Rawalpindi, respectively. Iftikhar, who had the best average and strike rate in T20Is amongst the Pakistan batsmen, played two Tests, two ODIs and seven T20Is in the 2019-20 season and earned a place in C category.

Shaheen Shah Afridi, who took the most Test wickets for Pakistan in the 2019-20 season, is one of the four players to get promotions. Shaheen, following his 18 Test and two T20I wickets, has moved up in Category A, while Abid Ali (174 runs in three Tests and 74 runs in an ODI), Mohammad Rizwan (212 runs and 16 dismissals in five Tests, 50 runs and two dismissals in five T20Is) and Shan Masood (396 runs in five Tests) have been awarded Category B.

“I am delighted for Naseem and Shaheen who have been well-rewarded for their outstanding performances. The two teenagers are the future of Pakistan cricket and I have no doubts that if they remain fit and stay focused, they will dominate world cricket for a long time, said Misbah.

“Their elevation is also a reward for bowling coach Waqar Younis, who has been working tirelessly on them, but there is still a long way to go for the duo and they have to perform consistently at big stages before they can put their cases of classifying them in the league of bowlers such as Waqar,” he added.

Furthermore, and as part of its commitment and strategy to reward high-performing young cricketers, the PCB has created a new Emerging Players’ Category, and the initial inductees are Haider Ali and fast bowlers Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain. Haider was a standout batsman for the Pakistan Emerging and U19 sides, whereas Haris and Hasnain showed their prowess and utility in limited overs cricket.

“I am thankful to PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani for supporting our recommendation to give emerging player contracts to Haider, Haris and Hasnain. This is part of our forward-looking strategy and investing in the future, while also encouraging potential future national team players. I am sure this will motivate a number of youngsters in the 2020-21 domestic cricket to perform up to the expected level and earn such incentives,” said the head coach.

“In the list, we have a strong pool of batsmen and bowlers, which will allow us to strategically rotate our players and manage their workloads. In the meantime, the selectors will continue to keep an eye on the 2020-21 domestic cricket and if they feel strongly that someone needs to be fast tracked into the national side, then we will not hesitate in giving those top performers such opportunities,” Misbah elaborated.

In addition to the three and to further recognise players, who have performed excellently in the 2019-20 season and/or are in and around the Pakistan men’s national team, the PCB are in the process of creating enhanced domestic contracts for the 2020-21 season so that they remained valued and motivated.

In the forthcoming season, Pakistan is scheduled to play two T20Is in Ireland (July), three Tests and three T20Is in England (July-September), three ODIs and three T20Is in South Africa (October), three ODIs and three T20Is at home against Zimbabwe (November), two tests and three T20Is in New Zealand (December), two Tests and three T20Is at home against South Africa (January 2021) and two Tests and three T20Is in Zimbabwe (April 2021). In addition to these bilateral series, Pakistan will also feature in the Asia Cup T20 tournament and the ICC T20 Men’s World Cup 2020 in Australia.