Pakistan’s worst fears came true on Thursday less than two weeks before the start of World Cup when their key strike bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif were declared unfit and withdrawn from the mega tournament.
The official announcement that came from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said that the pacers need three more weeks to recover from injuries and have been replaced by fast bowler Mohammad Sami and young all-rounder Yasir Arafat.
However, there are strong suspicions that the players have been pulled out of Pakistan’s 15-man squad to shield them from target tests which the International Cricket Council (ICC) plans to carry out before and during the World Cup scheduled to be played from March 13 to April 28.
Shoaib and Asif tested positive for banned anabolic steroid nandrolone last October and it is suspected that they are still carrying traces of the drug in their bloodstreams.
The suspicions gained weight when the duo avoided taking an internal dope test carried out earlier this month by the PCB as a precautionary measure before the World Cup. However, PCB strongly denied that the players have been withdrawn because of doping-related issues.
“Shoaib and Asif are out because they were declared unfit. We had no option but to replace the players because it would take them weeks to recover from injuries,” PCB chairman Dr Nasim Ashraf said.
Shoaib is carrying a knee injury while Asif is nursing a recurrence of a tennis elbow, Pakistan team’s official PJ Mir explained.
He said that the Board reviewed the players’ medical reports and finally decided that they are unlikely to get fit in time to play a role in the World Cup.
“We were prepared to give the players more time but it was quite clear from medical reports that the injury needed several weeks to heal so there was no point in waiting anymore,” said Mir, who played for Pakistan in the 1975 World Cup.
“It is really bad news for us but you have to live with such mishaps. We are all hoping that Sami and Arafat would rise to the occasion and deliver in the West Indies,” he hoped.
The double blow came soon after seasoned all-rounder Abdul Razzaq was replaced on the 15-man World Cup squad by Azhar Mahmood after fracturing his knee in a practice session earlier this week.
The timing of the double withdrawals raises further doubts about the PCB decision to finally pull out the pace duo after initially expressing confidence that Shoaib and Asif will get fit in time for the World Cup.
The withdrawal came soon after the ICC confirmed it would carry out target tests before and during the World Cup and minced no words in saying that the decision has been taken because of Shoaib and Asif.
Following the players’ withdrawal, ICC said that the PCB needs to apply in writing to the tournament Technical Committee for permission to replace the pacers and those applications require a doctor’s certificate substantiating any injury and certifying that the players will not be fit for the event.
Mir, however, said that the players have been replaced purely on fitness grounds. “There is no truth in suspicions that the players have been withdrawn because of doping-related problems,” he claimed.
Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer termed the news as a huge blow. “Shoaib and Asif were among our important players and it is very disappointing that they are
out,” said Woolmer. But the Englishman said that his team was capable of winning without the duo.
“We have to move on and put all of these problems behind us. I’m sure these boys can do it,” he hoped.
Skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq was visibly upset with this latest setback. “We are leaving under a lot of pressure,” Inzamam told reporters hours before the Pakistani squad flew out to the Caribbean.
“But we still have some very capable players in our team which is united and spirited and has the guts to win the World Cup,” he expressed.
The squad left without Sami and Arafat who would be flown to the Caribbean after being cleared by the World Cup Technical Committee.
Pakistan play two warm-up games against Canada and South Africa on March 6 and 9 before their World Cup opener against the West Indies on March 13 at Sabina Park, Kingston.
Revised Pakistan squad: Inzamam-ul-Haq (captain), Younis Khan, Imran Nazir, Mohammad Yousuf, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Azhar Mahmood, Umar Gul, Danish Kaneria, Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Sami, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Rao Iftikhar, Yasir Arafat.
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Post InfoThis entry was posted on Friday, March 2nd, 2007 and is filed under World Cup 2007.
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