Shahid Nazir named in Pakistan squad
Few surprises emerged in a 16-man squad announced by Pakistan's selectors for the tour to England which begins later this month. Shahid Nazir has been recalled, in place of the injured Shoaib Akhtar, but the selectors and Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's coach, were both satisfied that the squad was the strongest one available.
Wasim Bari, the chief selector, told Cricinfo that despite Shoaib's absence, Pakistan will arrive with a strong pace attack. "I think this is the best squad we could get, especially after the news of Shoaib's fracture. We will miss him of course - any side would - but in Shahid Nazir we have a bowler who is suited to English conditions and is a good option for the captain."
As a consolation, Shoaib's absence is not unusual for Pakistan; they drew in India and the West Indies last year and won in Sri Lanka recently without him. The emergence of Mohammad Asif and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and the return of Umar Gul has helped ease the burden and with Mohammad Sami recalled as well (Bari said the bowler has been working "extremely hard" since he was dropped after the India series), Pakistan's seam attack still has an enviable depth.
"We've played and done well in a few series without Shoaib," said Woolmer. "Obviously his presence and express pace are good to have, but I am happy with the squad we have. Shahid Nazir can be very good in these conditions."
Shoaib's participation at some point during the tour has, of course, not been ruled out yet least of all by Bari or the bowler. "I am very hopeful that he will play at some stage of the series. He will have another scan in six weeks and we will see after that," said Bari. And Shoaib told AFP he was planning to be fit in time to play at least the last two Tests of the series.
His absence apart, little about the squad warranted debate; in Woolmer's words, "this is a squad that has done very well and we don't want to be chopping and changing all the time." As is now the norm, there is a scarcity of specialist openers in whom confidence can be invested. Salman Butt and Imran Farhat are selected, though Shoaib Malik is likely to open with one of them in the Tests. "I don't understand why people have issues with him as an opener," said Woolmer, referring to a number of half-century opening stands and a maiden Test hundred in Colombo recently since Malik added opening to a burgeoning list of roles.
"He is a good, good cricketer. All opening batsmen are under pressure, but he's gutsy and the sort of bloke you want in your team. And he's done pretty well as opener."
Below them - always nice to say - is a middle order that picks itself. Asim Kamal's continued absence (though he remains a reserve member) might grate with some, but his poor domestic form and the robust international display of Faisal Iqbal recently, lessens the impact of his absence.
And because it is England, mischievous mutterings about little Mushie, currently busy tormenting English batsmen on the county circuit, still float around. Bari and Woolmer played their part, neither ruling out, nor ruling in, a Mushtaq cameo at some point in the summer.
Woolmer hinted that he might not be needed: "Danish [Kaneria] is our No. 1 spinner but we also have back-up in Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik. The pitches at that time of year in England will also have uneven bounce so we're looking more at our seam attack to do the work."
But Bari said, open-endedly: "We can't pre-plan these things and it all depends on what happens as the tour progresses, but he is in good form certainly." That form has seen him help Sussex to the top of the County table and help himself to 47 wickets from seven matches.
With England still suffering from a calamitous injury list, you could almost be tempted into believing Pakistan stand a more-than-decent chance of preserving an unbeaten record on England tours since 1982. Almost, but not quite, says Woolmer. "I don't look into the future. I respect the team, any team, that we play against. We still have to play very good cricket and win those crucial sessions to win matches. Above all we must take every game seriously."
Pakistan squad Inzamam-ul Haq (capt), Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shoaib Malik, Salman Butt, Imran Farhat, Kamran Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Danish Kaneria, Faisal Iqbal, Muhammad Sami, Rana Naved, Mohammad Asif, Umar Gul, Shahid Nazir.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo