BIRMINGHAM, England // A psychologically battered Pakistan side take on England in the second Test at Edgbaston today, with their selectors poised to take a huge risk by recalling Mohammad Yousuf, the former captain. Within 24 hours of the 354-run defeat by England in the first Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, Yousuf, having coming out of international retirement, was summoned from Pakistan in a high-risk move by the selectors.
Yousuf's condition has to be open to question: he only received a visa on Wednesday and then faced a 10-hour flight to Britain, less than 24 hours before the second Test starts. "It's going to be a management decision once we speak to him," Salman Butt, the captain, said. "It totally depends what condition he is in." Although Yousuf, 35, averages 53 in Tests, he has only played Twenty20 cricket in the past six months and bringing him back into the squad risks re-opening the bitter wounds exposed in May, when a video of an inquiry into player behaviour was leaked to Geo Super TV. Shoaib Malik, one of many former Pakistan captains still haunting the current set-up, was seen saying: "His [Yousuf's] captaincy in Australia was pathetic."
Malik in turn was accused of refusing to perform for Yousuf, while Butt may struggle to forget the public admonition he received from Yousuf after running him out against Australia in Hobart in January. Following the capitulation at Trent Bridge, Butt had pleaded for more time for his young teammates. "Whoever is in the Pakistan side is there because of ability," he said. "They need to be given time to show what they are capable of."
Butt was openly skeptical about the idea of tinkering with the line-up. "Having seen the past results can anybody over here tell me how many wins Pakistan had with the people who were previously playing?" he said. Waqar Younis, the coach, also seemed to rule out a recall for either Yousuf or Younus Khan, another former captain. "One [Yousuf] is retired. We can't bring back someone who is retired and the other [Younus] has serious issues with the Pakistan Cricket Board."
With or without Yousuf, Pakistan risks losing the series 4-0 and although Pakistan lost badly at Trent Bridge, Butt did at least seem to be rebuilding team unity. When catches were dropped, he and his teammates made a point of supporting the culprit, particularly Kamran Akmal, the wicketkeeper. Who Yousuf replaces is also a matter of conjecture as the only Pakistan player to play a significant innings at Trent Bridge was Umar Gul, a bowler, with 65 not out in the first innings.
And while the bowling attack had some success, Danish Kaneria, the spinner, has been released from the squad after taking one for 171 in the match and replaced by Saeed Ajmal. The contrast with England's serene preparations is stark. With every passing Test, England sound increasingly like recent all-conquering Australian sides, as the players talk of "executing gameplans" and backing themselves. There is concern over Kevin Pietersen's form - he has not scored a century since the tour of the West Indies in March 2009 - while Alastair Cook could also do with some runs. But unless there is an injury, the England starting line-up will almost certainly be unchanged. * AP