Pakistan want Shoaib to play only if he is fit

March 29th, 2011 - 8:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Shoaib Akhtar Mohali, March 29 (IANS) Pakistan are seriously considering playing Shoaib Akhtar in Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal against India, though skipper Shahid Afridi has left everyone guessing whether the feisty fast bowler will have one last go at Sachin Tendulkar.

Shoaib’s international career appeared over after he was hit for 28 runs in one over in the slog overs against New Zealand in the group stage of the tournament.

Worse, he had heated exchanges with Kamran Akmal after the wicketkeeper dropped stand-in captain Ross Taylor twice in one over. Taylor’s hurricane hitting won the match for the Black Caps and questions were raised over Shoaib’s temperament.

“We would like Shoaib to play, but we want to make sure he is match fit and ready for the big game. He will be tested at the nets to see if he is hundred percent fit before drafting him into the playing eleven,” Afridi said Tuesday.

Afridi, though, admitted that Shoaib is Pakistan’s key player and expected the fast bowler to come back fighting.

Shoaib, 35, had midway through the World Cup announced that he would retire at the end of the tournament.

Pakistan manager Intikhab Alam appeared on a different wavelength when he hinted that Akhtar was available for selection.

“There are no fitness issues with Shoaib and he has been involved in match practice and is available for selection. He’s very much part of the squad and there are no doubts about his motivation or enthusiasm to play in such an important match,” said Intikhab.

The team management is under tremendous pressure to play Shoaib, with World Cup winning captain Imran Khan and elder statesman Hanif Mohammad making a case for his inclusion.

A team source told IANS that the management is worried about the fast bowler’s fitness as well as his temparament. Akhtar is fit to bowl just five overs, at the most seven, and certainly not his full quota of ten. The big question is whether the team management is prepared to risk him in his present condition.

Shoaib played in three of Pakistan’s seven matches in the tournament and even in those three games, he could complete his full quota of overs only once, against Sri Lanka.

Against New Zealand, Shoaib gave away 70 runs in his nine overs and after that he has been kept out. That, perhaps, prompted him to announce his retirement.

Shoaib has an impressive record against India, picking up 46 wickets from 28 matches.

In-form fast bowler Umar Gul also acknowledges the importance of Shoaib in the side.

“Shoaib is our top fast bowler and if he plays, it would take a lot of pressure off me,” Gul said.

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