Pakistan in England, 2006 May 18, 2006

Shoaib included in preliminary squad

Cricinfo staff

It's good news for Pakistan fans as Shoaib Akhtar is a step closer to making his comeback from injury © Getty Images

Shoaib Akhtar was included in Pakistan's 21-man preliminary squad for the tour of England this summer, marking his return from a career-threatening knee injury. Akhtar, who underwent twin knee operations in February, recently resumed bowling in the nets and clarified that he was on his way back to full fitness.

Shoaib is one of seven fast bowers in the squad, recognition that pace is likely to be the key to success on the pitches of England. Wasim Bari, chairman of selectors, was keen to stress earlier this week that Pakistan's best hopes lay in pace and as a result has also recalled Mohammad Sami. After an indifferent home season, Sami was dropped from the squad to Sri Lanka but an impressive domestic showing in the Pentangular Trophy for National Bank has seen him return.

Shoaib's selection for the final squad, however, is not yet certain. "We need our best fast bowlers for the tour of England so Akhtar is back", Bari told AFP. "But he will not be an automatic choice and will have to prove his fitness in the conditioning camp."

Besides Shoaib and Sami, other talking points include the return of opener Taufeeq Umar. Having been out of the Test side since the tour to India last year, Umar is now one of three specialist - and left-handed - openers along with Salman Butt and Imran Farhat. Bari was hopeful that Umar's inclusion would go some way to resolving Pakistan's long-standing and well-documented top-order problems.

"You need batsmen with good technique as the ball moves in English conditions, so we need very good openers who can cope under the conditions." What this means for Shoaib Malik, who the selectors have been trying to transform into a Test opener and who recently scored a maiden Test hundred in Sri Lanka, is currently unclear.

Asim Kamal, without an appearance since a solitary failure against England in December, also has a chance to resurrect a faltering international career while Zulqarnain Haider, Pakistan A wicketkeeper, has also been included as an understudy for Kamran Akmal.

The preliminary squad will now assemble in Lahore for a conditioning camp from May 25 to June 5. Jonty Rhodes is also expected to arrive to help with the fielding for the second phase of the camp from the second week of next month. The final 16-member squad will be announced on June 9 in consultation with Inzamam-ul-Haq, the captain, and Bob Woolmer, the coach.

Preliminary squad - Inzamam-ul-Haq, Salman Butt, Imran Farhat, Taufiq Umar, Shoaib Malik, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Faisal Iqbal, Shahid Afridi, Bazid Khan, Asim Kamal, Kamran Akmal, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar, Danish Kaneria, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Mohammad Asif, Rao Iftikhar, Mohammad Sami, Umar Gul, Zulqarnain Haider