Riaz relieved to be back after unexplained break
Wahab Riaz, the Pakistan left-arm fast bowler, has said he is relieved to be back in the Test squad for the series against England, after an unexplained six-month break from international cricket. Riaz seemed to have cemented his place in the Pakistan team after an impressive introduction to international cricket but has found himself out of the national side after the tour of the West Indies in May this year.
His name had come up during the spot-fixing trial of Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir in October. The prosecution read out a written statement by Pakistan's security manager, Major Khwaja Najam Javed, which said Najam had found Azhar Majeed, brother of player agent Mazhar Majeed who was convicted of spot-fixing, in Riaz's room in the company of Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal after midnight during The Oval Test match. At the time his name came up in the case Riaz was with the Pakistan Test squad in the UAE for a series against Sri Lanka but did not play any of the Tests and was sent home before the one-day series.
"I am happy and relaxed to be selected again," Riaz told ESPNcricinfo. "I am honoured that the PCB and the selectors have kept their faith in me and supported me all the way. It was a nagging situation for me when I was out and it's obviously difficult when you are not part of the national team despite having all the ability to represent them.
"It was tough not being part of the squad for some time. But I had a firm belief that things will be cleared; I don't want to get into the details. What I know is that I am ready for yet another stint. I have kept myself fit and in form while playing domestic cricket so I don't think I will face any difficulty."
Riaz's last Test match was against West Indies in May. After that he had a stint with Kent during the English domestic season and was rested for Pakistan's tour of Zimbabwe. He seemed set to return for the series against Sri Lanka but did not play a match and was subsequently left out of the squad for the tour of Bangladesh. In the meantime, he took 30 wickets for National Bank of Pakistan at an average of 24.86 in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Pakistan's first-class competition. He also got 213 runs in eight innings at an average of 35.50.
Riaz, 26, said he is working on troubling the England batsmen with pace during the Test series that starts in the third week of January. He is among two left-arm seamers in the Test squad, the other being Junaid Khan, who has taken 13 wickets in four Tests in Riaz's absence. Riaz said he had added to his game by improving his batting and wanted to help Pakistan continue their successful run.
"I am fully fit and in good rhythm to carry on. I'm focusing on speed and some variation in my deliveries. I am bowling at a speed of 150 kph and am useful with the bat down the order.
"Our team has done well through the year. The England series will be a tough one but we've got a good combination of bowlers. I will do my best to live up to the expectations."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent