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Asif and Gul all set to be seen in action

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pakistan are expected to receive a pace boost for next month’s proposed one-day series against India as fit-again pacers Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul are set to return to the line-up.

But a huge question mark continues to hang over the possibility of Shoaib Akhtar making his international return against Pakistan’s biggest rivals in the series that is likely to take place from March 14-18.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has finalised a charge-sheet against the enigmatic fast bowler and its disciplinary committee is expected to announce its verdict on the player’s case next week.

Apart from Shoaib’s case, things look rosy for the Pakistan team that is getting ready to take on world champions Australia at home later this spring.

And the biggest reason for such a scenario is the expected return of the previously injured pace duo of Asif and Gul.

Pakistan have been playing with an under-strength bowling attack since last October’s home series against South Africa during which Asif aggravated his elbow injury and has since been unavailable for national duty.

Asif, 25, who is regarded as the most lethal pacer in Pakistan’s bowling arsenal, last played for Pakistan in the Multan one-dayer against South Africa last October. He missed the tour of India and also failed to regain his match fitness for this year’s home series against Zimbabwe.

But the lanky medium pacer has now completely recovered after undergoing key-hole surgery on his elbow in Australia.

Asif, who has taken 51 Test wickets from 11 matches and 31 ODI scalps from 29 appearances, is now all set to return to the Pakistan line-up next month if India confirm their participation in the series.

The Indian cricket board was supposed to inform the PCB about their decision on the proposed series on Saturday. But PCB officials say they are yet to receive a confirmation on the series.

Umar Gul’s case is a bit trickier as his chronic back problem make him a doubtful starter for the India assignment.

Gul, 23, broke down after the ODI series against India and had to miss the three Tests and later the games against Zimbabwe. He has been in training for a few weeks but complains of a stiff back every now and then.

But chief selector Salahuddin Ahmed said on Saturday that he has received ‘positive reports’ about the bowler.

“We are hearing positive reports about both Asif and Gul and will love to have them in the bowling attack,”
he told ‘The News’.

Salahuddin, a former Test cricketer, said that Pakistan will need all the fire in their bowling attack as they will most probably be taking on two of the world’s leading teams — India and Australia — in March and April.

“We have been a bit unfortunate in recent months because some of our frontline bowlers were injured,”
he said.
“But now we will be getting back soon and that is great news considering the fact that Pakistan will be playing against top teams like Australia and India,”
he said.

The chief selector said that unlike Asif and Gul, he was unaware whether Shoaib will be available for the home season.

When contacted by this correspondent, a top PCB official said that a charge-sheet has been prepared against the bowler and a final decision on his case is expected from the Board’s disciplinary committee next week.

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