Younis insists 'hosts' spirits are high

Haider's shadow looms large over the Pakistan side as they prepare for the first Test match to be staged in Dubai.

DUBAI // The last Test match played by Pakistan ended on a sombre note, following the spot-fixing expose in England. A similar mood prevails as the controversy-riddled side open their two-match series against South Africa today.

Zulqarnain Haider has fled the UAE and the mystery of his hasty retreat seems nowhere near an end.

His shadow looms large over the Pakistan side as they prepare for the first Test match to be staged in Dubai.

Cricket took a backseat on match-eve as Waqar Younis, the Pakistan coach, and Misbah-ul-Haq, the captain, faced questions about their wicketkeeper, who left the team on Monday.

Younis insisted spirits were high in their camp, while Misbah claimed Pakistan cricket had already turned the page on another sordid affair in their recent history and looked ahead to the game.

"Morale is pretty good," Younis said. "What happened in the last four months, five months, it's not ideal, not what we want, but we are all professional. If we deliver the goods tomorrow we stand a good chance. We've got a fairly good side."

Zulqarnain announced his retirement from international cricket after fleeing to England following alleged death threats.

The Pakistan Cricket Board reacted by suspending his stipend contract and flew in Adnan Akmal - the younger brother of the man Zulqarnain displaced as Pakistan's wicketkeeper, Kamran - as replacement.

"I think that's the past now," said Misbah, when asked about the controversies of the Lord's Test and Zulqarnain's departure. "You can't stay in the past, you have to look forward all the time.

"We have a new keeper here. He is also good and he has scored good runs in first-class cricket. He is a plus point and I hope he can perform well.

"With some of senior players back in the side, I'm really looking forward to have a good series, some good, tough cricket."

"We have a well-balanced side and hopefully, we are going to do well in the Test series."

Pakistan have lost both the Twenty20 (0-2) and ODI (2-3) contests in this "home" series and Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, is hoping his Proteas can return home with all three trophies.

"That would be fantastic … to come away from home and walk back with three trophies," said Smith, who believes the heat here will be a big test for his players.

"I think the players have gained confidence through the one-day win, but its going to be a new start on a venue which is used for the first time in Test cricket," he said.

"In the heat of five days, it's going to be hard work, not only a test of skills, but a test of fitness levels."

Zulqarnain, meanwhile, at a press conference in London, reiterated his claims about receiving a death threat and suggested that the International Cricket Council should track player movements and record their phone conversations to eradicate all forms of corruption from the game.

He did not accuse any of the players in the Pakistan team, but did respond to allegations in the Pakistan media that he might have taken money from bookies and run.

He said he was willing to let the police check "all my accounts around the world" to prove his innocence. "I just want cricket to be clear of any fixing and all bad things," he said.