RE - The selection of dope-tainted fast bowler Mohammad Asif in Pakistan's Champions Trophy squad has evoked mixed reaction from former players here.
Former chief selector Abdul Qadir has termed Asif's selection as a bad decision, saying that the pacer has not played any competitive cricket for more than 18 months and is unlikely to give his best in the eight-nation tournament to be held in South Africa from Sept 22.
Zaheer Abbas, a former Pakistan captain, believes that by picking Asif in the 15-man Champions Trophy squad, the national selectors have made a big gamble.
However, Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam has downplayed such criticism, saying that Asif is a proven match-winner and will prove his class in the tournament."Asif is fully fit now. He is a match-winner and we are sure that he will do well in the Champions Trophy," said Intikhab, a former Pakistan captain.Abdul Qadir, however, does not agree. "Asif has not played any international cricket for quite a while, which is why nobody can really be sure whether he is fully match fit or not. I don't think selecting such a player for an important event like the Champions Trophy is a wise decision."
Asif, 26, last played for Pakistan in April 2008 against Bangladesh in Karachi. He tested positive for banned anabolic steroid nandrolone while featuring in the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) season in India last summer and was banned for one year. His doping ban ends on the same day when the Champions Trophy will get underway.
Meanwhile, Qadir has also taken a swipe at the selectors for axing experienced all-rounder Abdul Razzaq from the Pakistan squad. He said that Razzaq did well in the ICC World Twenty20 championship in England and could have been very useful in South Africa.
He also criticized the decision to take only one specialist opener - Imran Nazir - for the Champions Trophy, and said that Pakistan should have shown faith in the experienced Salman Butt. "Salman Butt is such an experienced guy with more one-day centuries than (Pakistan captain) Younis Khan. He should have been in the team," said Qadir.
Intikhab said: "Asif's selection in next month's Champions Trophy squad as a step in the positive direction and said the pacer's presence will add more fire to the team's bowling department."
His comments came after former Test players have described Asif's selection in the Champions Trophy squad as a big gamble because the dope-tainted pacer has not played cricket for the last 16 months.
"No I don't think Asif's selection is a gamble because he is in good shape and working hard to be 100 per cent fit for the big tournament," Intikhab said.
"I think Asif's presence in the team will lend experience and sharpness to the bowling attack especially on the South African pitches where pace bowlers usually have a good time. And don't forget Asif has a good record in South Africa," he added.Asif will complete a 12-month ban for a doping offence during the inaugural Indian Premier League on September 22, the day Champions trophy begins in South Africa.Intikhab noted that Asif remained a match-winner as on his day he could create trouble for best of the teams.
He also supported the decision to appoint Shahid Afridi as vice captain, insisting it was a reward for his recent good showing."Shahid (Afridi) is one of the most active, energetic and motivated performers in the side and his appointment as vice-captain will be a positive move for other players," Intikhab said.
The coach also made it clear that no exceptions would be made for any player in the Champions Trophy training camp to start from September 1.Referring to reports that senior batsman Mohammad Yousuf might skip the conditioning camp because of the holy month of Ramazan and his religious preaching tours, Intikhab said so far Yousuf had conveyed no such request to him or the captain."No exception would be made for any player including Yousuf. They all have to attend the camp because the Champions Trophy is a very important tournament which we have never won before," he said.