CALUM MacLeod last night claimed the Saltires will benefit on and off the field from the inclusion of Neil Carter, the Warwickshire professional who officially retired from English county cricket in September.

The 38 year-old South African-born all-rounder is a controversial pick in the squad who will fly to the UAE today for a series of matches against Afghanistan but opening batsman MacLeod has welcomed the inclusion of his old Edgbaston pal.

MacLeod said: "Neil Carter is an exciting cricketer who has performed at the highest level. He bowls a heavy ball and is an explosive batsman who can make life difficult for any bowler. On the field I have no doubt he will be a huge hit but I know he will also make a positive contribution off it, as well.

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"When I was coming through the ranks at Warwickshire, 'Carts' was always prepared to take the time to talk to the youngsters. He was a great help to me in the tactical and mental aspects of the game and I'm sure the younger guys in the Scotland set-up will learn from him now."

Carter's inclusion has drawn criticism in some quarters but MacLeod added: "The inclusion of the new players throws down a challenge to everyone. There is serious competition for places and we all have to raise our standards – that has to be good for Scottish cricket."

Carter is one of five new faces in the squad as the selectors have taken advantage of the ICC's new parentage rule.

Yorkshire pace bowler Iain Wardlaw is included for the first time while Matt Machan (Sussex), David Murphy (Northants) and Rob Taylor (Leicestershire) will make their officials debuts after taking part in a tour to South Africa last October. However, Gloucestershire's Richard Coughtrie – one of five wicket-keeping candidates – misses out to Murphy.

There is also no place for Ryan Flannigan, Ali Evans and Craig Wallace, who have been regulars in the side for the past 18 months.

Pete Steindl, the coach, said: "There's a lot of disappointed guys but everyone knows we have to keep raising our standards. The players who are not included have to push the guys who are going.

"It was a hard selection process but we have picked what we believe is the best squad possible for this series of games and for the conditions that we will face."

The Saltires, who will play three warm-up games, kick off the serious action with a Twenty20 double-header against Afghanistan in Sharjah on March 3 and 4.

However, the most important fixtures of the tour are two 50-over World Cup qualifying games on March 6 and 8, also at the Sharjah Stadium.

Two wins would put the Scots top of the eight-team table from which two will automatically qualify for the 2015 World Cup. The sides meet for the final time in a four-day Intercontinental Cup match with Steindl's men bidding to stay on course for a place in the final.

Squad G Drummond captain, R Berrington, N Carter, K Coetzer, J Davey, G Goudie, M Haq, M Iqbal, M Machan, C MacLeod, D Murphy, P Mommsen, S Sharif, R Taylor, I Wardlaw