Mohammed Asif's impressive form in his first international game for 17 months has left his team's selectors facing a real dilemma. Pakistan will leave it until the last moment to decide on their team for today's Champions Trophy semi-final against New Zealand in Johannesburg. Asif took two for 34 off eight overs in Pakistan's two-wicket loss to Australia on Wednesday, a performance that could see him keep his place in the side.
"We might even decide to play with four specialist pace bowlers in Asif, Rana Naved, Umar Gul and Mohammad Aamer, but it all depends on the pitch condition at the Wanderers," said the Pakistan captain, Younus Khan. Pakistan rested Aamer and opener Imran Nazir for the Australia game, with Nazir nursing a hand injury. "We didn't want to risk him," said Younus. "And if he plays in the semi-final, then definitely it would be Misbah-ul-Haq who would have to make the sacrifice by sitting out."
Meanwhile, Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar will not be available for next month's limited-overs series against New Zealand in the UAE. The fast bowler will have surgery on a knee injury next week and is expected to be sidelined for more than half of Pakistan's premier first-class domestic competition. "It will take at least six weeks to recover from the surgery," said Rashid Iqbal, a spokesman for Akhtar's club, KRL,
The teams are scheduled to play three one-day internationals in Abu Dhabi, starting on November 3, followed by two Twenty20 matches in Dubai. Akhtar has been out of international cricket since competing in the limited-overs series against Australia in the Emirates earlier this year. Ahead of today's Champions Trophy game, New Zealand called up the all-rounder Scott Styris as backup for the injured Grant Elliott, who chipped a bone in his right thumb during Tuesday's win over England. Styris arrived in Johannesburg yesterday after travelling from India, where he had been preparing for the Indian Champions League tournament with the Deccan Chargers.
Elliott has trained since the England match, in which he took four wickets, but remains doubtful for today's semi-final. Styris's inclusion would still need approval from tournament officials. In other cricket news, Australia's Mitchell Johnson has been named 2009 ICC Cricketer of the Year at the LG ICC awards ceremony in Johannesburg, beating fellow short-list nominees Gautam Gambhir and Mahendra Singh Dhoni of India and the England captain Andrew Strauss.
"I'm really blown away," said Johnson, after picking up the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy. "I am just surprised to be up here. "It has been a great 12 months for our side. We have lost some wonderful players in recent years and we have been rebuilding with some young guys in the team and we have played together well. "I'm enjoying the game at the moment - that makes all the difference." email@example.com
Pakistan v New Zealand, 4.30pm, ART Prime Sport