Also included in the 16-member squad announced in Lahore is Shabbir Ahmed, just back from Australia where he had gone to correct his suspect bowling action, and right-hand batsman Younis Khan who had been dropped after last year's World Cup in which Pakistan had a disastrous run.
The pace attack will be led by tearaway Shoaib Akhtar who will be supported by Mohammad Sami, all-rounder Abdur Razzaq and Rao whom the chief selector Wasim Bari expects to be a "surprise" against the famed Indian line-up.
The 23-year-old Rao bowls at about 135 kmph and is known to bowl to a good line and length. His consistent outswingers and ability to extract bounce prompted the selectors to include him in the squad.
Bari said Rao was picked as he could prove to be a surprise package. "He has been selected based on his performance in the domestic season where he bagged a lot of wickets."
While pointing out that the squad was decided after consultations with coach Javed Miandad and captain Inzamam ul-Haq, he said, "the team is well balanced in all departments of the game and would give a good fight to the Indians."
Inzamam said he was pleased with the composition of the team that had the best players available.
"I am quite happy. The best players who were available have been picked in the squad," he said.
Justifying the inclusion of offie Saqlain Mushtaq and speedster Shabbir Ahmed, the skipper said, "the team needed some experience. Saqlain has been performing well in first-class cricket. As far as Shabbir is concerned, he was terrific in the last series that he played against New Zealand."
Bari said Afridi won back the favour of the selectors on account of being a good One-day player.
"Afridi is a utility player in One-day cricket. Not only can he bat and bowl, he is a very fine fielder as well," Bari said.
Bari said Saqlain could prove to be handy in both types of cricket because of his experience. "He also has a good record against India.
"Asim Kamal and Danish Kaneria have not been included as they are thought to be more useful in longer version of the game and will be, therefore, considered for the Tests," he said.
Like Rao, Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan and Misbah-ul-Haq were selected due to their performance in the domestic circuit.
Bari said selectors would still keep an open mind and continue to watch the players appearing in the domestic tournament - Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
Inzamam-ul-Haq (captain), Yousuf Youhana, Shahid Afridi, Saqlain Mushtaq, Younis Khan, Abdur Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar, Misbah ul-Haq, Mohammad Sami, Shabbir Ahmed, Moin Khan, Shoaib Mallik, Yaseer Hameed, Imran Farhat, Rana Namid-ul Hasan, Ifthikar Rao.
A Pakistan 'A' side was also named for playing in the tour opening One-day warm-up game to be played at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on March 11. Left-handed Test opener Taufeeq Umar was appointed captain of the squad.
Pakistan 'A' squad: Imran Nazir, Taufeeq Umar (capt), Faisal Iqbal, Bazid Khan, Naumanullah, Kamran Akmal (wicketkeeper), Yasir Arafat, Junaid Zia, Umar Gul, Zahid Saeed, Mohammad Khaleel, Ashar Zaidi and Qaiser Abbas.