Abu Dabi: When Pakistan take on Australia in the first match of their one-day series here on Wednesday, Andrew Symonds and Shoaib Akhtar will face what could be the last chance to revive their careers.
Australian all-rounder Symonds, who was previously told to seek counselling after a series of alcohol-related incidents, has made a comeback to the squad after being dropped for a recent one-day series in South Africa.
Pakistan fast-bowler Akhtar has played only three Twenty20 internationals and two one-day matches in the last 16 months, which saw him mainly sidelined for fitness and disciplinary problems.
He was axed after taking just one wicket in two one-dayers against Sri Lanka in February, a tour that ended after an attack on Sri Lanka's team in the Pakistani city of Lahore.
Akhtar was not part of the squad for the Bangladesh tour, which was postponed over security fears in the aftermath of a bloody border guard mutiny in February.
Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam admitted both Akhtar and Symonds will be the focus of attention.
"They (Akhtar and Symonds) are two players who will be the focus for everyone, both are match-winners and at their best can be devastating. I hope they take this opportunity with both hands and move ahead," Alam told a news agency.
The 33-year-old Akhtar, who has taken 220 wickets in 140 one-day matches, was handed a five-year ban in April last year after publicly criticising the Pakistan Cricket Board for axing him.
The ban was reduced to 18 months by an appeal committee which also fined him seven million rupees (95,000 dollars), before the Lahore high court suspended the ban but upheld the fine, paving his return to cricket.
While doubts over his fitness remained even after he arrived here with the team, Alam said he was satisfied with Akhtar's progress.
"I am pleased at Akhtar's discipline both on and off the field. He has shown promise and he is bowling with commitment, and I have lots of hope that he would deliver for us, which, I tell you, is very important," said Alam.
Akhtar said he was keen on taking the opportunity with both hands.
"I am raring to go. I can't wait to bowl against a strong team like Australia and the past is behind me," he said.
"I can't guarantee on fitness, but I can guarantee that whenever I take field, I will try my best."
Just like Akhtar, Symonds' form, fitness and behaviour will be on trial.
The all-rounder has promised he will do his best against Pakistan, having been included in Australia's preliminary 30-man squad for the ICC Twenty20 world championship in England in June.
Australian selectors had been advised Symonds had reached a point in his counselling where it was appropriate to consider him for international selection, subject to fitness and form.
"I've never taken a chance to play for granted so it's going to be pretty rewarding to be a part of the side considering I've worked hard to get back," said Symonds, who has so far scored 5006 runs and taken 129 wickets in 193 one-day matches.
"I'm feeling pretty fresh for cricket again. It's going to be a tough little tour and it will be great to be a part of it."