Shoaib, Asif and Gul in World Cup squad
Pakistan announced a 15-man squad for the World Cup shred of major surprises but seeped in uncertainty with the selection of three fast bowlers none of whom, for varying reasons, may make it to the Caribbean.
After extensive deliberations, the PCB announced a squad that includes Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul. The announcement was delayed through the day as medical reports of the three players were examined, before finally the squad was unveiled in the afternoon.
Of the trio, Shoaib and Asif are still under a cloud over the doping issue. Both players, like the rest of the squad, are due to undergo internal PCB drugs testing on February 17 and if, as experts fear, they still retain traces of Nandrolone, they are likely to face immediate bans.
Salim Altaf, director operations, PCB, said that Shoaib and Asif are selected subject to clearance in the dope tests of which results are expected during the first week of March. "We will cross that bridge once the results come in," said Altaf of what happens if they do test positive again.
Additionally, all three are carrying injuries. Shoaib has just flown to London to consult specialists about what could be a recurrence of the serious knee injury which kept him out of cricket for most of last year.
Concerns about Asif's physical wellbeing are also enhanced, following a grueling workload during the current tour to South Africa. The niggle is a flare-up of the elbow troubles that forced him to miss three Tests in England last year.
Gul missed the entire South Africa series with an ankle injury and though he maintains he is fit now, it has emerged that he was carrying a stress fracture which may or may not heal in time.
Altaf added, "Shoaib and Gul are subject to clearance of injuries. We are having a second opinion on Shoaib in London because he has shown signs of wear and tear. As for Gul, enough time has elapsed now since he got the injury. He is bowling six overs with a full run-up and the panel feels he will be fit for the World Cup so he has been included in the team. If anyone is unfit he will be replaced."
The Pakistan board has been assured by the ICC that injured players named in the squad can be replaced before the World Cup begins.
Otherwise, the only eyebrow-raising selection is that of Danish Kaneria. The Karachi leggie, an integral component of Pakistan's Test team, has rarely been part of Inzamam-ul-Haq's ODI plans. He has only played 16 ODIs in a six-year career and since Inzamam and Bob Woolmer came together in June 2004, has appeared in only seven matches.
Imran Nazir has also made a late burst into the squad, edging out the likes of Yasir Hameed and Imran Farhat for the opening slot. Nazir was recalled to the Pakistan side during the current ODI series in South Africa, having been out of favour for over two years. He returned in some style, scoring a blazing 39-ball 57 in Pakistan's win at Durban.
And despite speculation, and mounting pressure on selectors to act, no wicketkeeping back-up is being taken for Kamran Akmal. Through the last year, Akmal has suffered a horrendous blip in form behind the stumps leading to suggestions, from Pakistan's chief selector no less, to rest him and groom an understudy. It hasn't happened and though Akmal has struggled as opener, his glovework in the ODIs against South Africa has shown some improvement.
Azhar Mahmood, who made a surprise comeback to an injury-ravaged squad in South Africa, will not be given the chance to extend his fairytale return any further. With the nature of the injuries suffered by the fast bowlers, and those that Mohammad Sami and Shabbir Ahmed, as potential replacements, are suffering, a return cannot be entirely ruled out.
Squad: 1 Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), 2 Younis Khan (vice-captain), 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Imran Nazir, 5 Mohammad Yousuf, 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Abdul Razzaq, 8 Shahid Afridi, 9 Kamran Akmal, 10 Shoaib Akhtar, 11 Mohammad Asif, 12 Umar Gul, 13 Danish Kaneria 14 Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, 15 Rao Iftikhar Anjum
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo