Visa hitch delays Akhtar move

The fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar's bid to join Surrey in the English County Championship hit a hurdle when the authorities said he could not play without a working visa.

Shoaib Akhtar tosses a ball during a practice session at the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore in February 2008.
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ISLAMABAD // The fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar's bid to join Surrey in the English County Championship hit a hurdle today when the British authorities said he could not play without a working visa. "He is on his way back home," a person close to the Pakistani paceman, 33, said on condition of anonymity. "He will soon be going back after fulfilling the necessary visa formalities."

Akhtar had a valid visa to visit England but not a working visa, which is a prerequisite to play in county cricket. Akhtar was hoping to join Surrey for their last three matches of the season but the delay - he is not expected to make his way back to England until the weekend - means he will now only be available for the last two. The Surrey chief executive Paul Sheldon had expected Akhtar to make an impact for the London county, which is struggling to avoid relegation to the second tier of the English domestic championship.

"We did everything we could to get him here, but it hasn't worked out. We thought he'd make an impact as he wanted to get his career up and running again," Mr Sheldon was quoted in today's Daily Mirror. Akhtar has not played first-class cricket since December 2007. In April this year he was banned for five years by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for violating the players' code of conduct by publicly criticising the board.

The ban was later suspended to allow him to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL). It was then reduced to 18 months by the PCB, and finally suspended by a court, enabling him to be selected in Pakistan's squad for the Champions Trophy, which was later put back until 2009 by the International Cricket Council (ICC). The PCB had been reluctant of late to allow their pace bowlers to play in English county cricket due to the risk of burnout, but had been eager for Akhtar to take up this stint with Surrey to enable him to get some much-needed match practice.

Akhtar's career has been accompanied by a string of controversies including doubts over the legitimacy of his bowling action, a drug ban in 2006 for use of the banned steroid nandrolone that was subsequently put aside on appeal, and being sent home from the World Twenty20 championship for hitting a teammate with a bat. The paceman, dubbed the 'Rawalpindi Express' had previously played with Somerset, Durham and Worcestershire in England with underwhelming results.

*AP