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February 5, 2005
Pakistan's tumultuous cricketing year appeared set for another crisis with several leading players reportedly asking for Shoaib Akhtar to be omitted from the squad to tour India. The Nation reported that Inzamam-ul-Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Salman Butt are among those supposed to have objected to Shoaib's continued presence in the line-up. The newspaper went as far as to suggest that the players would boycott the tour if Shoaib was a part of it.
Sections of the Pakistani media claimed that the players were convinced that the team could do well without him, having reached the VB Series final despite Shoaib having flown back home with a hamstring injury. The Pakistan Cricket Board had asked him to prove his fitness ahead of the Indian tour, and though sources within the PCB strenuously denied talk of anti-Shoaib sentiment, the media continue to question why he was recalled despite excellent medical facilities being available in Australia.
The same report quoted Abbas Zaidi, the PCB's media director, as saying: "There is no such thing and they are all playing for the country, doing their job as one unit." And when pressed further, Zaidi would only echo the statement made by Shaharyar Khan, the PCB chief, saying that Shoaib would only be named in the squad if he was fully fit.
Since Shoaib's return, Pakistan stormed into the final of the VB Series with two splendid victories in Perth, and then pushed Australia hard in the first final. Rana Naved, who carried on playing despite the death of his father back home, was singled out for special praise, with his attitude and dedication gaining many admirers.
The much-maligned Shoaib was Pakistan's stand-out performer in the 491-run debacle that was the Perth Test, and he also bowled magnificently in the first innings at Melbourne before injury reduced his efficacy. Unfortunately for him, extensive media coverage of his off the field antics appear to have prejudiced both his team-mates and the country against him.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Shorter tours don't allow you time to get into form, and domestic cricket isn't demanding enough