Babar Azam will captain a strong 16-man Pakistan squad named Wednesday to face Australia on their first tour of the South Asian nation in nearly a quarter of a century.

Ace leg-spinner Yasir Shah has been demoted to reserves for the three-Test series, which will be played in Rawalpindi, Karachi and Lahore beginning March 4.

Australia last toured Pakistan in 1998, declining to visit the cricket-crazed nation in the intervening years on security grounds.

Pakistan has struggled to attract foreign teams since a deadly terror attack on the touring Sri Lanka Test side in 2009.

With home internationals suspended, Pakistan were forced to play their matches abroad – mostly in the United Arab Emirates – before normal service was tentatively resumed in 2015.

Last year New Zealand prompted outcry when they abruptly cancelled a series in Pakistan, citing security concerns.

The setback was compounded when England cancelled their tour shortly afterwards.

Pakistan’s chief selector Muhammad Wasim said the squad had been chosen on the basis of consistency.

“Changes have only been made where absolutely necessary to give confidence to the players,” he said.

Spinner Shah has been Pakistan’s prime match winner in recent years, taking 235 wickets in 46 Tests and anchoring Pakistan’s series wins against Australia in 2014 and 2018.

Also relegated to the reserves is medium pacer Mohammad Abbas, who took 17 wickets in Pakistan’s 1-0 series win over Australia in the two Tests in 2018.

Prolific opener Abid Ali was also left out after suffering heart problems in December.

Left-arm spinner Nauman Ali, off-spinner Sajid Khan and leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood will both feature in Pakistan’s attack.

Pakistan will also play three one-day internationals and a single Twenty20 match against Australia, with squads to be announced later.

The Pakistan Cricket Board confirmed Wednesday that Saqlain Mushtaq will continue as head coach for another year.

Pakistan Squad: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan (vice-captain), Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Nawaz, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Zahid Mahmood

Reserves: Kamran Ghulam, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Yasir Shah