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January 23, 2009
Two days after seemingly calling time on Shoaib Akhtar's international future, Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik has backtracked on his views that the team needed to "move on" beyond the fast bowler, who lacked commitment during their 129-run defeat to Sri Lanka in the second ODI at Karachi.
Malik had called into question Shoaib's commitment in the field and his fitness in maintaining speeds over ten overs. But ahead of the final ODI in Lahore, Malik surprisingly denied he had singled out anyone.
"I don't get personal against anyone," he said. "I don't think I named anyone individually. I definitely spoke about whoever could not field for 50 overs. It could be me or anyone who is selected in the 15-man squad."
Malik acknowledged that Shoaib's lengthy absence from international cricket - he got his first taste of one-day cricket in 14 months during the two games in Karachi - had played a part in his sluggishness. Shoaib, who bowled only 13 overs, conceding 88 runs and taking only one wicket, also looked limited while fielding.
"He is definitely struggling to get back into rhythm after spending so much time on the sidelines," said Malik. "But he is the same Shoaib who used to run through batting line-ups in one spell of bowling."
Cricinfo has learnt that Malik's initial comments had the backing of members of the team management. In discussions thereafter, with the management and selectors, Malik is said to have once again made clear his original views on Shoaib's commitment.
However, it is believed that senior board officials have chided Malik for his comments during the middle of a series, which would explain the subsequent backtracking in Lahore.
Shoaib has so far refused to respond to the statements but appeared jovial during training before the series decider, joking with Muttiah Muralitharan and reporters.
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