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Imam-ul-Haq’s injury in the first Test in Dubai has all but confirmed Fakhar Zaman’s debut in the second Test in Abu Dhabi.

Fakhar was named in the 12-man squad by Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed on the eve of the series decider against Australia and, unless Pakistan have a serious change of strategy, he is set to become the 234th man to play Tests for Pakistan.

Fakhar was also seen getting congratulated by other members of the team before the practice session at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, an indication that he will be receiving his first Test cap against Australia.

The left-handed opener rose to fame with a match-winning century in the final against India in the ICC Champions Trophy at the Oval last year and vindicated his ability to play a big innings with a double-century in ODIs against Zimbabwe earlier this year.

Fakhar was first selected to play Tests in Pakistan’s tour to Ireland and England in May this year. However, he returned from the tour uncapped as Imam made his Test debut in Malahide and also opened the batting with Azhar Ali in the two Tests against England at Lord’s and Leeds.

‘Run-rate boost’

Sarfraz revealed that one of the reasons to bring Fakhar in the squad is to give energy to the team’s dwindling run-rate in Tests.

“You need a batsman in your team who can score at a brisk pace. If you look at other teams, they are also selecting the players who can play fast cricket especially in the conditions like UAE,” said Sarfraz after naming Fakhar in the twelve candidates for the second Test.

" If you are speaking about run-rate then in the first Test’s two sessions, we scored 200 runs. We lost two quick wickets. After that, we had to focus on rebuilding the innings. "

“The requirement these days is to play with a run-rate of at least three runs and that is what we are targeting. We are trying to bat with at least 3 runs per over because if you don’t then you could be a day behind in the match.”

This thought might have struck to Sarfraz after Pakistan batted with a run-rate of 3.12 in the second innings in Dubai despite gaining a 280 runs lead and deciding against enforcing the follow-on. Pakistan’s run-rate for first 30 overs was below three and one could argue that if batsmen had scored at a better pace it would have given their bowlers an hour or 10 overs more to bowl out Australia.

‘Attacking brand of cricket’

Pakistan’s scoring rates have been below average in the recent past. Their run-rate in 16 Tests in the last two years is only 2.95 which is second worst for any team (the worst being Windies’ 2.90) despite the fact that half of those matches were played in Australia, England, Ireland and New Zealand, the places where pitches have true bounce and grounds have fast outfields.

It has been more than two years that Pakistan are looking for a batsman in the top order to improve their run-rate. Two years ago, they handed a Test cap to Sharjeel Khan in Sydney because of the same reason.

"We just thought we had it change it up somehow. We would like to play an attacking brand of cricket and I make no secret of that. We would like our rates to get bigger and to score a little bit quicker,” Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur had said at the time Sharjeel made his Test debut in Australia.

Sharjeel, however, could not play another Test as a month later that he was suspended and eventually banned for five years for his role in spot-fixing in the second edition of the Pakistan Super League.

Fakhar has not played a first-class match in over twelve months due to international and T20 leagues commitments but his strike-rate (63.60) in four-day cricket in Pakistan is the second best - only behind Sharjeel’s 85.93 - among the openers who have accumulated at least 2000 runs in the last five years.

When Fakhar debuts, it will also be a proud moment for Mardan, the city where he was born and that has produced only one Test cricketer before. That one Test cricketer finished his career last year as Pakistan’s most prolific batsman in Tests. Fakhar will have Younis Khan’s legacy in mind when he dons the green cap.