Asif set for return to action
Pakistan's fast bowler, Mohammad Asif, is set for a recall when the fourth and final Test gets underway at The Oval tomorrow, as the team management prepares to ring the changes once again. "Maybe Asif will play," Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan's captain, told reporters during a practice session at The Oval. "He is bowling well and he's played two or three games in Pakistan, so he's 100% fit."
Asif's return to action will be something of a gamble from Pakistan, given that he has been recovering from an elbow injury and only arrived back in England two days ago, along with his fellow fast bowler, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. But the team is in a state of "organised chaos", as Bob Woolmer, the coach, said yesterday, and anything goes as they attempt to get back to winning ways.
"It's been difficult," admitted Inzamam of all the comings and goings. "When your fast bowlers are unfit, it's difficult to win. I'm happy with the young bowlers, they've performed well, but Asif bowls a good line and length and he's a very positive, attacking bowler. He's been playing first-class cricket [for Leicestershire] and he knows how to take wickets, that's the main thing."
The decision to play Asif, assuming it is ratified, represents something of a U-turn from the Pakistan selectors, who last week said he had no chance of featuring in the game. But all told, Pakistan have had 25 players in and around their squad on this tour, if you include the likes of Mushtaq Ahmed and Yasser Arafat who were mentioned in dispatches ahead of the Old Trafford Test. One last change to the starting line-up can hardly disrupt their preparations any further.
In spite of everything, Inzamam remained his usual phlegmatic self, as he prepared for a return to a venue where Pakistan have won three times in seven visits, including their last two games in 1992 and 1996. The chest problems that disrupted his game at Headingley were brushed aside, and he insisted he was still enjoying the challenge of captaincy. "When you are winning you enjoy it more, when you are losing it's difficult. But I want to carry on, why not?"
With Mohammad Hafeez stepping into the opener's berth alongside Imran Farhat, there is unlikely to be any room for either of the allrounders, Shahid Afridi or Abdul Razzaq, as Inzamam elaborated, saying: "We want to play six regular batsmen, three genuine fast bowlers and Danish [Kaneria]."
Inzamam added that he had been very impressed with the performance of England's cricketers, who had brought to an end Pakistan's proud run of two years without losing a series. "It's not possible to win every time," he shrugged, "but England are playing tremendously and their batting has been wonderful."
Looking ahead to this winter, Inzamam believed England looking strong for their defence of the Ashes. "If they continue playing like this, they should be good games and they'll have a big chance," he said. "Their batsmen need to be in form and playing like this, and their bowlers need to be bowling well, that's the key. It could be very even."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo