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Shoaib Malik, Soaib Akhtar expected to play key roles
By Iqbal Khattak
PESHAWAR -- With all-rounder Shoaib Malik and speedster Shoaib Akhtar on board, national team captain Shahid Afridi says his team stands a chance to win cricket’s Asia Cup, which starts June 15 in Sri Lanka.
“Pakistan’s team will put up a fighting performance and this team cannot be written off”, Afridi said before leaving for Colombo to face Sri Lanka in the tournament’s opening match.
India and Bangladesh are the two remaining teams competing for the Cup. The last time Pakistan won the Asia Cup was in 2000 in Bangladesh.
Asia is the only continent with enough cricket teams to field a proper tournament. The Asian cricket council approved the idea of the Asia Cup in 1983. In 1984, the first edition was introduced in Sharjah.
India and Sri Lanka have won the Cup four times, while Pakistan has won just once. Sri Lanka is the only team to participate in every Asia Cup.
Fresh from ICC T-20 World Cup in the West Indies, where they could not defend the title, national selectors recalled fast bowler Akhtar and all-rounder Malik to strengthen the team.
Malik had been suspended for breaching discipline codes during Pakistan team’s tour Australia last year. However, the Pakistan Cricket Board reversed its decision to allow him to rejoin the team.
The national selector, Mohsin Khan, considered Akhtar for the team to add speed to the bowling attack of Pakistan. The Asia Cup, however, might be a last-gasp chance for the veteran Akhtar to revive his chequered career.
Afridi said his team has a chance to win the Cup, but what concerns him more is the issue of discipline among the team-mates.
“I have made it clear to all the players that each one of us has to stick to the discipline codes. I cannot afford a player violating these codes”, he told journalists in the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore just before the squad was announced.
The Pakistan team looks balanced in the bowling and batting departments.
In batting, the team has exciting batsmen in Akmal brothers — Kamran and Umar - Salman Butt, Imran Farhat and Malik.
In the bowling department, Muhammad Asif, Abdul Razzak and Muhammad Aamer will join speedster Akhtar to challenge any strong batting line-up, while specialist spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman can spin the ball to deceive any top-class batsman.