Mon, Jan 01, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Pakistanis question selectors' exclusion of paceman Akhtar

AFP , KARACHI, PAKISTAN

Former bowling greats yesterday criticized the dropping of paceman Shoaib Akhtar from Pakistan's 17-man team for the South Africa tour starting this week, saying it would reduce pressure on the hosts.

Pakistani selectors said Akhtar lacked fitness for a five-day Test despite bowling 21 overs in a four-day first class match and featuring in a domestic Twenty20 tournament.

"There must have been some compelling reasons to keep a bowler like Akhtar out of the team, reasons we don't know," Imran Khan said.

The Pakistan team will leave tomorrow and open the tour with a three-day game against South Africa A at Kimberley from Saturday, before playing the first Test at Centurion from Jan. 11.

Khan, who played 82 Tests for Pakistan and was among the world's top four allrounders in the 1970s and 1980s, said it was tough to keep a match-winner like Akhtar out.

"It is tough to keep a fully fit Akhtar out of the team -- he is a match winner. If selectors feel he is not fit, then they must watch him in a match, and if found fit he should be sent on the first available flight," Khan said.

The 31-year-old Akhtar has not played for Pakistan since a one-day match against England three months ago. He was banned for two years, and fellow paceman Mohammad Asif for one year, in November after both tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone in October.

However, a Pakistan Cricket Board appellate committee overturned the bans last month on the grounds that both did not take the banned substances knowingly.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has challenged the decision and the Court of Arbitration for Sport is likely to hear the agency's appeal this week.

Khan's former new-ball partner, Sarfraz Nawaz, said Akhtar's exclusion had eased pressure on South Africa.

"Now with Akhtar not in the team, South Africa will prepare fast pitches, as there would be little pressure on them," said Nawaz, who played 55 Tests for Pakistan.

Nawaz, who groomed Akhtar in his early days, said he would personally watch Akhtar play a first-class match soon.

"I am told Akhtar is playing a first-class match this week and I will personally watch him, and if I find him fit then I will expose all the selectors," Nawaz said.

Former medium-pacer Aaqib Javed said questioning of Akhtar's fitness was surprising to him.

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