Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Shoaib completes remarkable comeback

Pakistan squad for Champions Trophy

Shoaib Malik (capt), Salman Butt, Nasir Jamshed, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul Haq, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal (wk), Bazid Khan, Khalid Latif, Shoaib Akhtar, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Iftikhar Anjum, Abdur Rauf, Saeed Ajmal

Shoaib Akhtar capped an ultimately inevitable but nevertheless remarkable comeback into the Pakistan side, being named in the 15-man squad for the Champions Trophy. The inclusion became inevitable only recently after various, protracted legal battles were semi-won and other fast bowlers suffered injuries or became embroiled in doping scandals; it is remarkable because only in April was he banned for five years by the board, his career seemingly over.

Kamran Akmal also made a mildly surprising comeback into the squad, having lost his place to Sarfraz Ahmed during the Asia Cup, due mainly to exceedingly poor form behind the stumps. But Pakistan's selection committee has banked on Akmal's batting strength and experience.

Umar Gul has also been included after his rib injury was cleared by the board's medical committee. Gul, who picked up the problem during the Asia Cup, has not bowled since then and didn't do so during the practice games in Multan last week. Shahid Afridi and Salman Butt also made the squad despite missing the trial games. Afridi was attending to a domestic problem and had been under pressure over his poor recent form, while Butt had just recently undergone appendicitis surgery.

As ever, however, the headlines will go to Shoaib. He was named in a preliminary list of probables after the Lahore High Court temporarily suspended an 18-month ban imposed on him by the PCB, itself reduced from the initial five-year punishment. Since then he has worked his way back steadily to some kind of fitness - he last played an international last year in India - choosing to opt out of a training camp to work on his own.

He then impressed in the trial matches, where witnesses said he bowled with sustained speed ad accuracy. "We held two trial matches where Akhtar proved his fitness and he is willing to return and since he is determined he is an asset for Pakistan," chief selector Salahuddin Ahmed told a news conference.

The PCB has also apparently softened its stance over the question of an outstanding fine they said Shoaib had to pay before he was cleared to play. Shoaib has refused to pay the Rs 7 million fine while he waits for the court to rule on whether it will overturn the ban, a decision expected to be made once courts restart in September.

"His lawyer has argued that Akhtar can pay the fine once the appeal against the reduced ban is heard in the court, so we have decided to keep the legal matter and cricket separate," PCB chief operating officer Shafqat Naghmi said.

Mohammaf Yousuf's opting out of the tournament as it was played during Ramadan has led to the recall of Bazid Khan, son of Majid, while a place has also been found for the young Karachi opener Khalid Latif.

Pakistan, hosting the tournament for the first time from September 12, is drawn in the same group as India, Australia and the West Indies, against whom they open the tournament.