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Daunting task for crisis-ridden Pakistan in England

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    Daunting task for crisis-ridden Pakistan in England

    Pakistan's crisis-ridden cricket team face a daunting task in England when they begin their 54-day tour on Wednesday.

    Although Pakistan have won test series on their previous three tours to England, preparations for this year's battle -- two tests and a tri-nation one-day series -- have been far from impressive.

    With the wounds of last year's upset home-series loss to England still fresh, the Pakistan cricket managers replaced Moin Khan as captain with Waqar Younis.

    They then dropped Khan from the provisional squad and took nearly six days to finalise the touring party amid media reports that Younis opposed the selection of veteran all-rounder Wasim Akram, who was eventually added as 17th player.

    Controversial fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, middle-order batsman Yousuf Youhana and all-rounders Abdur Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood were included in the squad with fitness clouds hanging over them.

    Wicketkeeper Rashid Latif who fell out with fellow players after accusing them of match-fixing and betting, found himself back in the side after three years.

    It was chiefly on the basis of his evidence that Younis, Akram, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar, Mushtaq Ahmad and Akram Raza were censured and fined on the recommendations of a judicial commission of Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum.

    Apart from Raza, all are part of this year's squad.

    SUSPECT ACTION

    But Akhtar's inclusion means the first half of the English summer will certainly not be controversy-free.

    Akhtar has twice been reported for a suspect bowling action. He was first cited in November 1999 in the Perth test against Australia by Darrell Hair and Englishman Peter Willey.

    The International Cricket Council (ICC) last week confirmed that the two men would officiate at the first test starting on May 17 at Lord's -- a decision which will certainly not please the pacer in particular and Pakistan in general.

    Akhtar, who was also reported in February after the Dunedin one-day international against New Zealand by umpires Steve Dunne and Doug Cowie, has been working on his bowling under the guidance of former Australian test bowler Dennis Lillee and other experts at Perth's University of Western Australia.

    There are also fitness doubts over Akhtar, who has not played competitive cricket since the Dunedin one-day match and has failed to complete his last two test tours in a space of 14 months.

    His last first-class match was in March 2000 at Karachi in the third test against Sri Lanka where he had figures of three for 52 and one for 64.

    In his other appearance in that series at Peshawar, Akhtar took five for 75 and two from 47. But his performances were not enough to save Pakistan from suffering their third series loss in a row at home.

    But the inclusion of Akhtar, who is battling with Australian Brett Lee for the tag of the world's fastest bowler and has taken 45 wickets in 15 tests at 35.84, gives Pakistan an edge over England as far as bowling is concerned.

    Younis and Akram, who devastated England on their previous two tours by sharing 72 wickets between them, will be touring England for the last time.

    The once deadly duo are determined to end on a happy note after having played on the English county circuit for more than a decade.

    Akram represented Lancashire at Old Trafford, the venue of the second test, while Younis represented Surrey and Glamorgan.

    INCONSISTENT BATTING

    Mohammad Sami, who regularly clocked 144 kph in his two tests in New Zealand last month, is set to impress the fans in England.

    The 20-year-old, open-chested bowler has a shortened run-up but makes the batsmen hop and run as effectively as Akhtar.

    Spin duo Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmad give more spice, variety and dimension to the Pakistan squad.

    Pakistan's unreliable and inconsistent batting will revolve around vice-captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and Saeed Anwar who had a tremendous last tour to England.

    Haq, who made his test debut against England in Birmingham in 1992, had scores of 148 and 70 at Lord's, two and 65 at Leeds and 35 at The Oval. Anwar got 362 runs in six innings, at 60.33.

    Haq, who has made 4,962 runs in 72 tests, also got 303 runs in five innings in last year's series in Pakistan.

    Middle-order batsmen Yousuf Youhana, who scored two centuries in England's last visit, Younis Khan and teenage Faisal Iqbal are the three strokemakers who average in the 40s but have yet to display their techniques on seaming pitches.

    The test series will be followed by the one-day series from June 7 with Pakistan playing two preliminary-round matches apiece against Australia and England.

    Pakistan had a mixed one-day tour to England in 1999 when they defeated Australia in the league match but lost a lopsided final. Since then, Australia have beaten Pakistan in five out of six matches.

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