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February 5, 2007
Azhar Mahmood, Pakistan's virtually forgotten all-rounder, has been called up as a replacement to Pakistan's injury-ravaged ODI squad in South Africa after Shabbir Ahmed became the latest casualty on tour, returning to Pakistan with a groin injury that is likely to keep him out for at least three weeks.
Mahmood will join a beleaguered Pakistan side, fresh from thumpings in the Twenty20 international and the first ODI, and already depleted by the absence of key bowlers Umar Gul and Shoaib Akhtar. Rao Iftikhar, the right-arm seamer, who is part of Pakistan's 30-man World Cup squad unlike Mahmood will also join the squad as cover.
Ahsan Malik, PCB spokesman, told Cricinfo: "Azhar has been in good domestic form and the team management in South Africa felt they needed to have him in the squad. He is essentially a replacement for Shabbir Ahmed."
The selection is a u-turn of sorts, for only last month, on announcement of a provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup, Wasim Bari, Pakistan's chief selector, had said of Mahmood's exclusion, "Mahmood has not been a regular in domestic cricket. He went to the last World Cup [in 2003] and did not play. We want to move forward."
Mahmood played the last of his 139 ODIs exactly two years ago, against Australia in the 2004-05 VB series final. It wasn't a useful experience; he bowled only one ball and batted number nine.
But he has continued to perform in domestic cricket in England and Pakistan since then. For Surrey in 2006, Mahmood scored 600 runs at 37.50 and took 31 wickets from 13 Championship games while his form for Islamabad in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy this season has helped his side to the top of the Silver League and a possible promotion to the Gold League for next season. In four matches so far he has scored 391 runs with two hundreds and two fifties, averaging nearly 80. He has also taken 26 cheap wickets.
Although Pakistan pushed South Africa harder in the Test series than many thought they would and there are still four ODIs remaining to salvage some pride and form, they have made, once again, for a shambolic touring rabble.
Players such as Shoaib Malik and Gul were allegedly injured before they even got to South Africa. Gul returned having participated briefly in a warm-up game and nothing else while Malik missed the Test series. Shoaib Akhtar, originally omitted, was called up, played one day of Test cricket and returned with a hamstring strain.
It was time enough for a televised spat with Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach. To add to their woes, Shahid Afridi appeared to strike out at a fan after being dismissed in the first ODI at Centurion Park and could possibly face disciplinary action.
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