Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Shoaib Akhtar in Wednesday's World Cup semi-final : Shoaib could get one last tilt at glory

Pakistan are considering playing their controversial fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar in Wednesday's World Cup semi-final against India after his international career appeared to be over.

Shoaib, 35, who will retire after the tournament, has not played since Pakistan's loss to New Zealand in the group stages.

Media reports said he had fallen out of favour after an argument with wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal, who dropped Ross Taylor twice in one over. Taylor went on to score a match-winning century.

"I would like to see him play but we just want to make sure he is match fit and ready for such a big game. We will test him out in the final nets," said captain Shahid Afridi on Monday

Former Pakistan captain Imran Khan has been urging Afridi and coach Waqar Younis to take a chance with Shoaib.

"I don't know how fit he is but if he is available I would definitely play him even if he can bowl just five or six overs because he is a shock bowler and a wicket-taker and you need such a bowler in such a big match," Imran told the Geo News channel.

Hints that Shoaib might get a final fling at the World Cup emerged during news conferences with vice-captain Misbah-ul-Haq and pace bowler Umar Gul this week.

Gul, who has spearheaded the Pakistan pace attack in Shoaib's absence, said he would feel comfortable and confident if the veteran were to bowl at the other end against India.

Pakistan manager Intikhab Alam also did not rule out the possiblity of a return.

"Shoaib has been fully involved in match practice and is available for selection. He's very much part of the squad and there is no question about his motivation or enthusiasm to play in this important game. Akhtar is ready for the semi-final," Intikhab said on the website.

The former test captain dismissed reports that Shoaib was no longer taking an interest in training or focused on cricket after announcing his retirement.

"The rumours about Shoaib no longer focusing on cricket after announcing his retirement are false. Shoaib has been training hard with his team mates throughout the tournament and it's been no different since he announced his retirement," he said.

Former Pakistan captain, Zaheer Abbas also urged the management to play Shoaib if he is fit.

"It is a high pressure game and the team needs someone of Shoaib's experience and pace. His pace will matter against the strong Indian batting and we have backup bowlers if the gamble does not work," Zaheer told Reuters.
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