England v Pakistan, 4th Test, The Oval August 15, 2006

Hafeez to open as Shoaib is ruled out

Shoaib Akhtar: not being rushed back to action © Getty Images
Already 2-0 down in the series, Pakistan's squad has resembled an airport departure lounge (minus the delays) in the last few days, with comings and goings in all directions. But when all the heads have been counted, the team is set to unveil its fourth opening partnership in as many matches on Thursday , as they seek to salvage some pride in the final Test at The Oval.

Salman Butt and Taufeeq Umar, who opened in last week's third Test at Headingley, have flown home along with the left-armer Samiullah Niazi, which means that Mohammad Hafeez, who made a good impression on a recent A tour to Australia, will win his fourth Test cap. He will be partnering Imran Farhat, who opened with Butt at Lord's and Kamran Akmal at Old Trafford, and was a relative success with 85 runs in four innings until he broke a finger while taking a catch in the second innings at Manchester.

Meanwhile the new-ball pairing of Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Mohammad Asif have returned to the fold, and on the evidence of today's net session, either one or both could yet push into the starting line-up, maybe at the expense of the underperforming Mohammad Sami, and certainly ahead of Shoaib Akhtar, whose rehabilitation from injury is not being rushed with the challenge of the World Cup just around the corner.

"The way they bowled today was very encouraging, so they have to be in contention," Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's coach, told reporters. "As a selection committee we will assess the situation, but Shoaib will not play." Such a rapid return to the ranks would be a gamble from the Pakistan selectors, seeing as the two men only arrived back in England yesterday and haven't played for a month, but given the toothlessness of Pakistan's other seamers - the admirable Umar Gul aside - there is little point in persisting with what they've got for the sake of continuity.

"There is no chaos here, it is controlled chaos if anything," insisted Woolmer. "We brought Asif and Rana back to get them going again, Shoaib is here training and will be fit for the one-dayers, and so there are a lot of positives. We are in keeping with the Pakistan tradition of large touring parties."

Woolmer did admit, however, that the loss of their most established opener, Shoaib Malik, before the series had even begun, was a big blow. Malik, recently underwent surgery on his elbow, and Woolmer rated him as "touch-and-go" for the one-dayers.

Hafeez had a good tour of Australia for the Top End Series with Pakistan A, scoring 372 runs in six matches, including 180 against Australia A in a four-day match in Darwin.

"A right hand-left hand combination is what we would like and Mohammad Hafeez played extremely well in Australia," added Woolmer. "He was going to fit into our one-day squad so it made sense to try to get him going."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo