Intikhab says Sarfraz will play
After days of confusion, Intikhab Alam has put an emphatic end to speculation surrounding Pakistan's wicketkeeping spot, saying that there is "no doubt" Sarfraz Ahmed will play as the wicketkeeper in Kamran Akmal's place in the third Test in Hobart starting on Thursday.
Speculation has been rife and silly since the Sydney Test about Akmal and his role in the Pakistan side. Reports emerged blaming his late-night babysitting for the four dropped catches at the SCG and there has been talk of his younger brother Umar pulling out of the third Test with an allegedly feigned back injury in protest at the axing.
The team was given a day off from practice today, but Umar and Sarfraz trained at the Bellerive Oval under the eyes of Intikhab and Aaqib Javed, the assistant coach. There will be a selection meeting the day before the Test begins but Intikhab indicated that if it comes to a vote with the four-man selection committee (Mohammad Yousuf, Akmal, Intikhab and manager Abdur Raquib form the panel), Akmal will step aside.
"Naturally he [Sarfraz] has been sent as a reinforcement," Intikhab said. "Unfortunately Kamran had a bad game and he is a very good wicketkeeper-batsman. It can happen to anyone but the fact of the matter is Sarfraz has been sent here and we will give him a chance.
"It has happened in the past [a vice-captain having a vote on his own position in the side]. We were in Sri Lanka, the vice-captain was Misbah-ul-Haq and he wasn't having a good time and we decided in the meeting, at times you have to take that tough decision and we'll take that decision. And there is no doubt that Sarfraz will play.
"We have a three-member committee but this time the manager will also sit in. We're sure the right decision will be taken and he will have a vote as well. I have already spoken to Kamran and I think he understands. These things happen in cricket. I'm sure he's good enough and he'll come back."
Younger brother Umar had a longish net session, having sat out practice yesterday and woken up this morning to stories about the stiff back being merely a ploy to protest at the treatment of Kamran. Intikhab said the back was fine and talk of protest absolute rubbish.
"He is ok. He had a sore back. The last few days the guys have been working very, very hard, and so I gave them a day off today," Intikhab said. "Umar didn't practice yesterday, he was sent to hospital and had x-rays done and the doctors said there is nothing wrong with him. He has had one painkilling injection but that's why I brought him here to make sure he is fit and raring to go.
"It's [the stories of his protest] all rubbish. At times I laugh when I read such stories. He's one of the emerging cricketers in world cricket and he is capable and has the ability to do that. He is ok."
Training cheerily alongside Umar was Sarfraz, who having played eight ODIs in 2008, finally finds himself on the verge of a Test debut, the first man other than Akmal to don Pakistan's Test gloves since late 2004.
"Of course the pressure is there for representing your country against Australia," Sarfraz said. "But all the coaches, the manager and players have really supported me and told me to take no pressure and treat it like you are playing a normal first-class match."
Sarfraz was part of the same Pakistan A tour to Australia as Umar in June-July last year and had a similarly successful time, picking up 11 victims and three fifties in the two 'Tests'. And some advice had already come his way on conditions here, he said, from the man he is set to replace. "Kami supported me and said play your natural game. I arrived two days ago and he said no pressure. He told me about the pitch here, a little bounce and some break. He is a very good player no doubt and everyone goes through a bad patch. I will give my 100% for our team."
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo