Vol. 5 Num 923 Sun. December 31, 2006  

New twist to Shoaib tale

If every Pakistani had a paisa for every time they heard "Shoaib Akhtar has not been considered because he is not fit", then the percentage of the entire population deemed to be below the poverty line might not be as high as 35%. We could probably be a first world country now.

Mind you, it isn't always the truth: like explaining flight delays with the time-honoured "We are experiencing technical difficulties", the line that "Shoaib is unfit" actually is often a convenient way of masking all sorts of troublesome issues.

He is "not match fit" again apparently for South Africa, even though he said recently that he was.

Given that his fitness and form were judged on the evidence presented from three Twenty20 games, one four-day domestic match where he bowled 21 overs and a three-day training camp (as proof, that is about as passable as that used to justify the invasion of Iraq) you have to think that there must be something more to it than just fitness. How else can you really explain not taking Shoaib (it isn't the doping taint either, for then Mohammad Asif wouldn't be going)?

Pakistan are going to South Africa, where pitches are still quicker and bouncier than most places. Pakistan have also seen India's pace attack repeatedly trouble the host's fragile top order.

Pakistan also know that their batsmen are likely to struggle so they will be ever more reliant on their fast bowlers to produce results.

Naturally then the best fast bowlers are to be taken and if you have as many as Pakistan do, then you can afford to gamble on one who is not fully fit. Especially so if you can afford to give Mohammad Sami another chance, who even when he is fully fit, is a bigger gamble altogether.

Navedul Hasan is back in ODI form, but apart from two Tests against England, the jury is still out over how successful a Test bowler he can be. And who would the desperately out of touch Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibb rather face first up: Shoaib or Sami?

If nothing else, surely Shoaib's experience counts for something. We justifiably bitch about the measly number of Tests he has played in what will soon be a decade of international cricket, but at 42, it is still only 27 appearances less than the five fast bowlers going to South Africa put together.

Sami apart, he is the only bowler with experience of those conditions.

The speculation doesn't appear to be entirely unfounded either and there are suggestions that the captain was adamant about not taking him

So it must be, as plentiful speculation in newspapers for much of this week that Shoaib would not be picked suggested, because officials and teammates alike are again unhappy with his attitude.

The speculation doesn't appear to be entirely unfounded either and there are suggestions that the captain was adamant about not taking him.

If so, then this is a new development, for Shoaib seemed to have been rehabilitated last year, while helping Pakistan win a series against England and a Test against India. He had even, very publicly, made up with Inzamam.

What has changed since then, seeing as he has only played four matches for Pakistan in that time? And is he now that much of a hindrance to the team that his attitude cannot be dealt with if it helps win a Test series, as it did last winter?

If he has become that problematic, then does it not make more sense for the board and the team management to just come out and say it, rather than trot out tiresome and barely plausible excuses?

That would mean, of course, that they be honest and open and because we've had a paisa for each time they did that, it explains why there is so much poverty in Pakistan. It also explains why Pakistan will never be able to fully resolve its complex relationship with Shoaib.