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Pakistan confident over Malik's fitness

Shoaib Malik's chances of being fit in time for the first ODI against Zimbabwe may be improving, but it is still not apparent who would take over as captain should he fail to overcome his ankle injury.

On the second day of Pakistan's training camp in Lahore, ahead of the first of five ODIs on January 21, Malik made further progress in his battle to recover from the injury that has sidelined him since the end of November last year. He sustained the damage while playing football during training after the Delhi Test against India, forcing him to sit out the remaining two Tests.

But after the first day of the camp, Malik told reporters he was getting fitter and another day has provided further encouraging signs. "He is looking much better now," said Shafqat Rana, a national selector who is at the camp. "He was running at full speed during practice and we're confident he will be fine for the ODI series."

That hasn't stopped, however, chatter about who might be in the running to stand in as captain. Younis Khan is one option, though he has blotted his copybook by first refusing the captaincy last year and then only becoming a reluctant captain in India when Malik was sidelined. But soon after the tour, he changed his mind and said he was willing to lead Pakistan if he was offered the job.

Some officials have also mentioned Misbah-ul-Haq as a possible candidate, but that would be appear a stretch even by the standards of Pakistan cricket. Misbah has only secured his place in the side during the India tour and from forgotten man to captain in six months seems an unlikely leap.

Local reports have also suggested the candidacy of Shahid Afridi, and the player himself says he wouldn't turn it down. Afridi led his domestic side Habib Bank for parts of this season, including in the recent Quaid-e-Azam final. He is also currently leading a Patron's XI against the touring Zimbabweans in a four-day match in Karachi.

"It is a big honour to play for Pakistan and an even bigger one to captain the country," Afridi told reporters at the end of the third day's play. "It would be an amazing opportunity and if I was offered it, I would obviously accept it."

Whether Malik is fit to lead should become clear on January 18, when selectors name their final squad for the ODI series, but Nasim Ashraf, the PCB chairman, is confident Malik will be fine. "The good news is that we are confident he will be fit for then," he told Cricinfo. "But we cannot say right now who is in the running if he doesn't make it as we don't want to add to speculation. All this will become public when the squad is announced."