Pakistan pace trio on the mend, says Woolmer

Published: Friday, August 4, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Leeds:Pakistan head into the third Test against England at Headingley here still without the services of injured pacemen Shoaib Akhtar (ankle), Mohammad Asif (elbow) and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan (groin).

The tourists were severely handicapped in the drawn series opener at Lord's and England's crushing innings and 120 run second Test win at Old Trafford by the absence of their three leading quicks.

And the trio will be missing again for a match Pakistan must win to have any chance of winning the four-Test series heading into the final Test at The Oval starting on August 17.

But premier paceman Akhtar is due to play a match for Birmingham League side Berkswell against St George's in the English Midlands this weekend and Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer said both Asif and Naved, recovering in Pakistan, were on the way back as well.

"Mohammad Asif went through a fitness test yesterday (Wednesday), He bowled eight overs pain free. Shoaib Akhtar plays his first game in the Birmingham League on Saturday and we'll see how he comes through that.

"And Rana Naved is due to start bowling again in the next couple of days," former England all-rounder Woolmer also told reporters at Headingley here Thursday.

Although Rana, who starred for Sussex earlier in the season where fellow Pakistan star Mushtaq Ahmed is still playing, was ruled out of the four-Test series, Woolmer indicated he could yet return for the subsequent five-match one-day contest against England.

"There is a thought he (Naved) might return to Sussex and work under the Sussex team and see if we can get him fit there. They did bring this up through Mushy and suggest that might be the case. We will certainly look at that.

"But he definitely won't make the fourth Test match and nor should he because he hasn't bowled for some time"

Turning to Asif, Woolmer added: "He's got another test today (Thursday) and if he comes through that he'll play against West Indies A in Shenley (a two day match starting on August 12 which is Pakistan's final fixture before the fourth Test)."

And Woolmer said Akhtar would need plenty more cricket before the Rawalpindi Express, who took 17 wickets during Pakistan's 2-0 victory in a three-Test home series against England late last year, was fit for an international comeback.

"We want him to bowl at least eight full days of cricket before we can make any sort of statement about whether he will be fit for the last Test match."

England too have had their fair share of injury problems this series with all-rounder Andrew Flintoff (ankle), Ashes-winning captain Michael Vaughan (knee), fast bowler Simon Jones (knee) and left-arm spinner Ashley Giles (hip) all missing.

"We're not making any excuses because we've got injuries," Woolmer insisted. "Test cricket is Test cricket and you can do nothing about it if the guys are unfit to play."

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