Pakistan's tour to England May 17, 2006

Sami itching for return

Khalid Hussain

Advice like this may get Mohammad Sami back into the Pakistan team © AFP

He will be fit. He will not be fit. The spotlight, as usual, remains on the maverick Shoaib Akhtar and his fitness. But there is another Pakistani speedster who is quietly waiting to pounce on his next opportunity.

For Mohammad Sami the upcoming tour of England, if he gets the selectors' nod for a place in the 16-man squad, would be a perfect platform to defy what is a growing list of critics, who reject him as an under-achiever -- a bowler going downhill without even achieving his prime.

On Tuesday, chief selector Wasim Bari described him as a fast bowler with great potential but lacking maturity.

Sami believes he can prove all of them wrong by regaining the sort of form that made him an instant star early in his international career.

The 25-year-old pacer says he is all pumped up for the marathon tour of England for which he is expecting a call. " I am looking forward to being a part of the team because my fitness is good and am also bowling well," Sami told `The News', a day before the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is expected to announce a list of around 25 players for a fitness camp ahead of the tour of England.

Sami is sure to make the cut for the fitness camp starting in Lahore from May 25 when the list of probables is announced and also has bright chances of getting a place in the 16-man squad for England.

He is relishing the prospects of bowling in English conditions, traditionally favourable to fast bowlers. "I would love to be in the team for England as it would be a challenging tour for me," he said. "The wickets and weather conditions there are good for pacers and if I do well in England it would really help me lift my confidence," he said.

Sami has been in and out of the Pakistan team in recent months and was dropped from the squad for this spring's tour of Sri Lanka because of poor form.

But the Karachi player, among a small list of pacers in the cricket world who can bowl over 90mph, bounced back with a vengeance on the domestic circuit with a forceful showing for National Bank whom he guided to a title-winning triumph in the Pentangular Cup last month.

"The wickets I took in domestic matches have boosted my confidence," said Sami. "Not going to Sri Lanka was obviously disappointing but I took it in my stride because such things are part of life. In fact, it motivated me to work even harder on my fitness and form."

He said that encouraging words coming from former Pakistan skipper Imran Khan has also lifted his morale. "It certainly helps to hear experts expressing faith in you," he said.

Imran, Pakistan's legendary allrounder, has been backing Sami's inclusion in the squad for England and has also criticised PCB for keeping him out of the series against Sri Lanka.

Sami said one of the reasons he expects himself to bowl well in England is his previous county experience there. "I have played county cricket in England for two years and am familiar with the sort of conditions we are going to face there," said Sami who played for Kent. Sami wants to go to England and make his presence felt there because he believes it would play a role in his chances of making the squad for next year's World Cup. "Like every cricketer, playing in the World Cup is very important for me and for that I have to deliver in the preceding matches," he stated.