Gul and Arafat out of World Twenty20
Defending champions Pakistan suffered a major blow less than a fortnight from the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean when Umar Gul and Yasir Arafat were both officially ruled out of the tournament, having failed to recover sufficiently from injuries picked up in the ongoing training camp.
But the announcement of replacements was a typically muddled process, with a lack of communication between the team management and the chairman PCB, Ijaz Butt, resulting in the former naming two replacements and the latter hurriedly issuing a press release clarifying that "the decision for the replacement of two players in Pakistan Team for ICC T-20 World Cup has yet to be approved by the Chairman PCB. The Final decision will be released after approval. All statement made earlier in this regard are not correct."
The 'statement' the release referred to was made by Shahid Afridi, Waqar Younis and then chief selector Mohsin Khan, all of whom told reporters that fast bowlers Mohammad Sami and Mohammad Irfan would be the replacements. "In mutual agreement with captain and coach, we have decided that we will not take a chance with half-fit players," Mohsin said in Lahore. "We have approved the names of Mohammad Sami and Mohammad Irfan as replacements." The chief selector later confirmed to Cricinfo specifically that approval had been given.
But Cricinfo understands that the board chairman hadn't been informed of the names at that point; senior officials in the board were bewildered that the trio had announced the names without any consultation with the chairman. "There has been some miscommunication over this but the names have not been approved," Butt told Cricinfo. "They will be announced later today."
The confusion initially overshadowed the magnitude of Pakistan's loss. A calf injury had ruled Arafat out some time ago and it was only his departure from the tournament last year and Abdul Razzaq's arrival that settled Pakistan's line-up.
But Gul will be a significant blow, especially as he was thought to be recovering from a shoulder injury he picked up during a fielding drill. Medical assessments held over the weekend weren't bright. Gul had been their leading wicket-taker in both the 2007 and 2009 editions of the World Twenty20. His death bowling was a key component of the 2009 success in particular, a record spell of 5-6 against New Zealand, sparking a turnaround in the team's fortunes. He is currently the world's leading wicket-taker in the format.
Sami's name was widely being touted as a possible replacement in any case, so impressive has his comeback into the national eye been since he led Karachi to a Quaid-e-Azam trophy title last year and was called up to Australia. Afridi has always been a fan and at the ICC trophy unveiling earlier this week, informally spoke very highly of Sami's commitment and energy in the field.
If both replacements are approved by the chairman, Irfan's will be one of the stories of the tournament and not only because he will be the tallest bowler there: his official height, with typical confusion, is recorded as anywhere between 6'8" and 7'2". The left-arm paceman's rise to national selection is nothing short of remarkable.
He made his first-class debut this season, for Khan Research Laboratories, only after huge interest was created around him on the popular Pakistani fans' website, PakPassion.net. One of their writers was told of Irfan by a former first-class fast bowler Nadeem Iqbal, who was running an academy in Multan; Irfan hails from Gaggu Mandi, a nearby town which also produced former Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Zahid.
The writer, while subsequently interviewing Aaqib Javed - then with the National Cricket Academy in Lahore - mentioned Irfan's name to him and Aaqib immediately asked for Irfan to come to the academy. He was spotted by KRL captain Mohammad Wasim, the former Pakistan opener, and an impressive debut season brought him to the attention of the selectors.
Though he wasn't in the reserves of the 15-man squad announced by the PCB, his performances in the RBS Twenty20 Cup and the potential surprise value his height brings have thought to have persuaded the management to prompt for him.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo