Gul supports calls for Shoaib to play against India
Two weeks ago, Shoaib Akhtar's international career looked finished, now there are increasing calls for the paceman to be restored to the Pakistan side for one of the biggest match of them all Wednesday's World Cup semifinal against India.
Two weeks ago, Shoaib Akhtar's international career looked finished, now there are increasing calls for the paceman to be restored to the Pakistan side for one of the biggest match of them all - Wednesday's World Cup semifinal against India.
Several high-profile former players have backed Akhtar's inclusion, and on Monday, Pakistan's frontline fast bowler Umar Gul voiced his support for the 35-year-old's return to the team.
"Shoaib Akhtar is an experienced bowler who has performed well against India," Gul said. "If he plays, it will take some of the pressure off me. When he was not there, there was a lot of pressure on me."
Akhtar was rested - to use the Pakistan team's words - after he conceded 28 runs in a single over in the group stage loss to New Zealand. He announced in the days leading up to Pakistan's last group match against Australia that he'd be retiring after the World Cup.
Pakistan has won every game since Akhtar was left out, but his replacement Wahab Riaz hasn't made an impact and has scant experience of pitches in India. Akhtar, a veteran of 163 ODIs, has taken 17 wickets in 10 matches in India, 14 of those against the host country.
Former captain Imran Khan began the calls for Akhtar to be recalled even before India won its quarterfinal against Australia to set up Wednesday's showdown with Pakistan.
Khan thinks Akhtar's all-out speed and aggression could trouble the talented Indian batting lineup. Javed Miandad, another ex-skipper who is now the director general of the Pakistan Cricket Board, agreed.
"If Shoaib Akhtar is fit and the team management thinks that the wicket will suit the fast bowlers at Mohali then they should include him in the playing XI," Miandad told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
"Shoaib could definitely make some sort of an impact if the wicket suits the fast bowlers and I think he should replace Wahab Riaz," Miandad said.
Akhtar's teammates have been quick to say that the decision is up to the team management, but experienced batsman Misbah-ul-Haq and now Gul have supported his inclusion.
"Shoaib Akhtar is a class bowler," Misbah said. "He has performed for Pakistan on a number of occasions including the 1999 World Cup. If he does play in coming matches, I feel it will give us a psychological advantage."
Wasim Akram, part of Pakistan's 1992 World Cup winning-team, conceded it might be a risk to include Akhtar but that the 35-year-old's love for the big occasion would make it a risk worth taking.
"I feel he deserves a place for sure," Akram was quoted as saying in the Pakistan media. "Wahab Riaz is bowling well but he is nothing exceptional. Shoaib's only problem in this World Cup has been his second spell. I have advised him to warm up before the second spell and that will help him.
"Shoaib against the Indians is always very dangerous. I know it is a big risk, but luck favors the brave."
In 28 matches against India, Akhtar has taken 41 wickets at an average of 26.78. At the 2003 World Cup, Akhtar claimed the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar on 98. Tendulkar has been dismissed by fast bowlers on four occasions at the current tournament.
"Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag are top-class players but against Shoaib it's a different duel altogether," Akram said. "He is an entertainer and he loves the big stage."
A consideration for Pakistan is how well the Indian batsmen handled a misfiring pace barrage against Australia last week, when Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson failed to get through the middle order.
Akhtar has taken 247 ODI wickets for Pakistan and bowled a world record 161.3 km/h (100.2 mph) delivery at the 2003 World Cup, but his career has been punctuated by fallouts with teammates and team management.
He said last week he would retire happy even if he didn't represent his country again.
"Even if I don't get my 250th wicket it is fine," he said. "It will be dream to reach that landmark, but if I don't get picked, there is not much I can do. I still remain the fastest bowler in this World Cup.
"Pakistan winning the World Cup is far more important that reaching personal goals. For me, nation comes first. That's the way I have been. So I will accept any team decision."