Shoaib Akhtar, Younis Khan back in Pakistan ODI team


Pakistan on Saturday erased question marks hanging over the international careers of pace star Shoaib Akhtar and senior batsman Younis Khan by naming them in a 15-man squad for a brief tour of Scotland early next month.

The national selectors who met in Abbottabad on the sidelines of a national training camp brought back Shoaib and Younis to ‘strengthen’the Pakistan team that is to play old rivals India in a one-dayer on July 3 in Glasgow after facing hosts Scotland at Edinburgh two days earlier.

They dropped all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez and rookie medium pacer Najaf Shah. Both just played a game each in a three-match ODI series against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi last month.

“We believe the return of Shoaib Akhtar and Younis Khan would strengthen our team,” says chief selector Salahuddin Ahmed alias Sallu. “Both are among the world’s best players and it is really good that they are back,” he adds.

Shoaib, 31, has played very few matches for Pakistan in the past one year because of injury or doping-related problems.

He missed the World Cup in the Caribbean because of a knee injury and later opted out of the Abu Dhabi series against Sri Lanka due to fitness issues. The fast bowler, however, says that he is fully fit now and is raring to have a go against India in Glasgow, where conditions are expected to be pace-friendly.

“I am fit and feel really well,” says the man known in the cricket world as the ‘Rawalpindi Express’. “I’ve been bowling really fast and cannot wait to play for Pakistan again.”

Shoaib, who has taken 169 Test and 208 one-day wickets, finds himself at the helm of a an impressive six-man pace attack that includes medium pacer Mohammad Asif, Umar Gul, Mohammad Sami, Abdul Razzaq and Rao Iftikhar Anjum.

Sallu says that the selectors have opted for half a dozen pacers and not a single specialist spinner, considering the fact that Pakistan will be playing in conditions suited to seamers in Scotland.

The selectors ignored leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, who is currently playing for Essex but gave his availability for the matches in Scotland.

Pakistan’s batting line-up also gets a boost with the return of the in-form Younis Khan. The Mardan-born batsman refused to take over as Pakistan’s captain after the World Cup debacle saying that he was unable to cope with the stressful nature of the job. Later, he made himself unavailable for the Abu Dhabi series because of county commitments with Yorkshire, a decision that raised doubts over his future with Pakistan.

However, Younis responded positively to a call from chief selector last week after which it was decided to bring him back in the fold.

“Younis is fit and in great form and his is a welcome return,” Sallu points out.

The selectors have kept faith in openers Salman Butt and Imran Nazir but Hafeez, who opened for Pakistan in the World Cup, was not as lucky.

Karachi youngster Fawad Alam managed to survive in spite of a disappointing debut in Abu Dhabi. Fellow debutant Najaf Shah, a tall pacer from Rawalpindi, was unable to find a place in the pace-oriented bowling attack.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has announced that it will name the team’s vice-captain after a meeting of the Board’s ad-hoc committee today. Mohammad Asif was appointed as the Shoaib Malik’s deputy for last month’s series against Sri Lanka.

Pakistan squad: Shoaib Malik (captain), Imran Nazir, Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Kamran Akmal, Fawad Alam, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Umar Gul, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Mohammad Asif, Rao Iftikhar Anjum.

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