Pakistan look to Shoaib for pace

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Pakistan’s star fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar will lead the national team’s pace attack in next month’s Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa even after leaving the ongoing training camp in Karachi because of a neck injury.

Playing down the injury-prone pacer’s latest fitness problem, the official told ‘The News’ on Sunday that Shoaib’s injury is of minor nature and he will certainly be a part of the 15-man squad for the inaugural T20 World Cup to be announced later this week.

“Shoaib had a stiff neck and the doctors advised him a week-long rest which is why he was allowed to leave the camp and go home,” said the official.

“Apart from the minor neck problem, Shoaib is fully fit and we are confident that he would be bowling at full throttle in South Africa,” added the official.

Shoaib joined the Karachi-leg of the camp a day late because of domestic reasons and failed to impress much in a practice match that he played here at the National Stadium last week.

He looked jaded and was dogged by dehydration during the match. Later, he missed the remaining games because of a stiff neck and finally headed back home on Saturday after getting permission from the team management.

But in spite of all these happenings, Shoaib is one of about a dozen players who are almost certain to make a place in Pakistan’s final 15-man squad for the T20 World Cup.

The national selectors are planning to have a couple of meetings in Karachi over the next two days before finalising the team, most likely on August 8.

Pakistan are among the 12 competing teams in the T20 World Cup to be held from September 11-24 and are hoping that a full strength bowling attack would lead them to the title, a result that will wash away the tears of the national team’s embarrassing first round exit from the World Cup this March.

Shoaib, 31, has not played for Pakistan since limping out of a Test match in South Africa this January because of a knee injury. He later missed the World Cup due to fitness and doping-related problems.

Known in the cricket world as the ‘Rawalpindi Express’, Shoaib has recently cleared a dope test and says that he is a hundred percent fit.

Pakistan’s new coach Geoff Lawson sees Shoaib as his team’s most potent weapon. “Akhtar is going to be a big part of the success of that team,” Lawson has said in a recent interview.

Shoaib and Lawson have been in constant touch since the former Australian Test pacer was named as the new Pakistan coach a few weeks back. They would finally be working together for a few days at a brief training camp in Lahore getting underway in Lahore from August 19. Lawson will join the camp on August 22.

According to the official, the case of all-rounder Abdul-Razzaq also remains strong in spite of the fact that he also left the camp because of a viral infection. “Razzaq is one of our most experienced players. He is valuable both as a batsman and a bowler and certainly remains in contention for a place in the team,” he added.

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