Asif returns to Pakistan squad for Champions Trophy
Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Asif's rehabilitation is almost complete after he was named in the Pakistan squad for the Champions Trophy, having been out of international cricket for over a year. Asif is one of five pacemen for the tournament, but there is no place for allrounder Abdul Razzaq, who took four wickets from three matches on his comeback to ODI cricket in Sri Lanka earlier this month. Razzaq was, however, dropped for the last two games. Opener Nasir Jamshed, who was part of the ODI squad in Sri Lanka, has also been excluded.
"Asif is back after he satisfied with his fitness and this is the best possible team for an event which is regarded as the toughest of all the events as the world's top eight teams compete in it," Iqbal Qasim, Pakistan's chief selector, told reporters in Lahore. Razzaq's exclusion, mildly surprising given his impact at the World Twenty20 in June on his return from an ICL-exile is believed to be a tactical one; given a long, solid middle order, Pakistan prefer a bowling allrounder at number eight, rather than a batting one. "We had a tie between Razzaq and Naved-ul Hasan when it came to selecting an allrounder, so the best one was picked," Qasim said. "It was not a case of Razzaq not performing well."
It is the return of Asif, however, that will make the headlines. The fast bowler last played for Pakistan in July last year; he was banned by the Pakistan board soon after in September after testing positive for the banned substance nandrolone at the inaugural IPL. The ban ends on September 22, and the ICC has cleared him to play in the eight-team tournament that starts on the same day in Johannesburg.
After being included in the 30 probables for that tournament, Asif attended an Under-23 training camp in Karachi to assess his match fitness. He took 1 for 23 in a practice match during that camp, impressing Rashid Latif, who was overseeing the camp. But despite his selection, Asif can't take part in Pakistan's conditioning camp leading up to the Champions Trophy because his ban expires after the camp finishes.
Pakistan's squad has only one specialist opener in Imran Nazir, who only returned to the side in Sri Lanka after leaving the ICL; alongside Jamshed, Salman Butt also doesn't find a place in the squad. Until Sri Lanka, Butt was Pakistan's one steady opener, with eight ODI hundreds to his name, but an alarming dip in form and confidence during the tour has done for him.
Many eyes will be on Umar Akmal, wicketkeeper Kamran's 19-year-old brother, who made such an impact in Sri Lanka and was Pakistan's highest scorer in that series.
Pakistan: Younis Khan (capt), Imran Nazir, Misbah-ul-Haq, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Naved-ul Hasan, Fawad Alam, Mohammad Yousuf, Kamran Akmal (wk), Umar Gul, Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif, Rao Iftikhar, Saeed Ajmal.