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April 3, 2012
Lancashire are close to concluding a deal to secure the return of Junaid Khan, the highly-rated Pakistan left-arm seamer, as their overseas player for this season's Friends Life T20.
Recruited last season on the recommendation of Wasim Akram, Junaid made a big impact on the Flt20 and helped Lancashire reach finals day for the first time in four years, only to miss the climax to the competition after being selected for Pakistan's tour of Zimbabwe.
His absence was felt, particularly his ability as a death bowler, with Lancashire losing the semi-final at Edgbaston to Leicestershire in a one-over eliminator. Despite the interest of other counties, Lancashire are confident of securing Junaid's return later this summer.
"We've got some paperwork with Junaid at this moment in time, so hopefully we'll get that back soon and square that bit of business off," Mike Watkinson, Lancashire's Cricket Director, explained. "That's important for us really because if you look at the depth of our squad, we feel we've got the quality to compete in all three competitions, but we need a little bit of a buffer for our bowlers.
"Glen Chapple, Saj Mahmood and Kyle Hogg bowled a lot of overs last season and if we get Junaid on board, he showed what he can do last season in the T20 competition and proved to be an outstanding performer bowling at the death. That's something we're a little bit short of, so we're looking forward to having him in the bag and then we can see where we are from there."
Junaid's time at Lancashire last season proved beneficial for both parties. Signed on a meagre contract due to the financial restrictions imposed by the ongoing legal battle with Derwent Holdings and the redevelopment of Old Trafford, Junaid impressed enough to break into Pakistan's Test side. Sri Lankan all-rounder Farveez Maharoof was also signed on a similar deal earlier in the summer and impressed sufficiently to play in the Test series in England and has since reclaimed his place in their one-day international squad.
While financial restrictions have eased enough for Lancashire to re-sign South African batsman Ashwell Prince to help with the defence of their LV County Championship title, Watkinson conceded they may have to look for further bargains if they are to strengthen the squad further.
"In an ideal world the squad could stand somebody else given the amount of cricket we're going to play and how intense the season is but whether that happens or not, we're not really sure," he said. "We have proved last season that there are players out there who are willing to play for the opportunity and to further their own careers, so we'll weigh that option up."
Prince will miss Lancashire's three-day match against Cambridge University, which starts on Friday, but is expected in time to feature in their opening championship match of the season against Sussex at Aigburth next week.
It will be his third spell with Lancashire, having averaged 52.60 from five first class matches in 2009 while he also returned for an interim period the following year, and his familiarity with an already close-knit squad - in addition to the chance to impress South Africa's selectors ahead of their tour of England in the second half of the summer - was a key factor in securing his arrival.
"You can't pick and choose who's available and obviously Ashwell has played for us before and we loved having him," explained Lancashire captain Chapple, who shares an admiration for Prince as a cricketer with a mutual support of Liverpool Football Club.
"He worked hard; he was a dedicated cricketer and has obviously got proven international class. He supports Liverpool as well so there's a bit more support in the dressing room and we're looking forward to having him back. He was good for us when he played for us before and we're sure he will be again."
Chapple may miss the Cambridge University match after contracting a cold during Lancashire's recent trip to Abu Dhabi for the champions' opener against MCC but remains in good spirits ahead of Lancashire's title defence.
Asked what would be different this summer as champions at the annual media day, where the traditional opening question was always to enquire whether Lancashire could finally win the title, Chapple responded by saying: "We're answering different questions!"
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the day from the fourth ODI between Australia and South Africa at the MCG