In yet another u-turn as farcical as an Ealing comedy, Shoaib Akhtar has been called up to Pakistan's squad in South Africa as cover for Umar Gul, who is suffering from an ankle injury that may rule him out of the first Test, due to begin from 11 January at Centurion Park. For logistical reasons, Shoaib's chances of appearing in the first Test remain slim.

"Shoaib Akhtar will fly out on the first available flight to South Africa," a PCB official told Cricinfo. "The team management decided that with Gul suffering from an injury and Shoaib Malik out for a couple of weeks, it was necessary to have some cover. "

Given that only ten days ago he was left out of the 17-man squad on the grounds that he wasn't fit, his recall will add further fuel to the fire that though he was fit, he was originally left out for other reasons, namely an allegedly strained relationship with Inzamam-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain. In those ten days, Shoaib has only played one game but he was not willing to look back , preferring understandably to look ahead to the Test series.

"I don't want to look at the past," he told Cricinfo. "I hold no grudges and whatever has happened in the past is in the past. I only want to play for my country and perform - that is my only concern at the moment. I think we can do well there but a lot will depend on how we do in that first Test."

It is unlikely though, as the board pointed out, that he will be available for the first Test; a 15-hour flight means, at the earliest, he will arrive on the 10th, one day before the start of the first Test. Ant least he is happy with his own level of fitness at the moment, should he be thrown into action immediately.

"I bowled 21 overs in a domestic game over the last two days and did pretty well so I think on that level I am okay," Shoaib said, referring to Islamabad's match against Abbottabad in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, in which his five wickets, including four for 56 in the first innings, has left his side on the verge of a thumping innings victory.

Confirmation of his fitness also came in the form of Nasim Ashraf, the PCB chairman, who went to the Diamond Club ground in Islamabad to watch him play. According to board officials, the chairman was content that Shoaib was fit enough.

Shoaib has not played a Test in almost a year, when Pakistan romped to victory against India at Karachi last year. Off the field has not meant out of mind though as a succession of injuries and controversies have limited his appearances to four ODIs since then, though he was impressive in them.

There lingers, though, uncertainty over the exact status of Gul and for a squad already without Mohammad Yousuf and Malik, that is a worry. Gul only bowled three overs in Pakistan's warm-up game against the Rest of South Africa, before being taken off as a precautionary measure.

Initially it was not thought to be a serious issue, but Gul is due to see a specialist to shed further light on the precise nature of the ankle injury. Potentially, say some sources, it is a serious concern, which could rule him out for months. Wasim Bari, chief selector, however has told AFP that Gul has been advised three weeks rest.