If the Pakistan team management give the nod today, the disgraced fast bowler Mohammad Asif will end an year of isolation with a recall for his country's campaign-opener against the West Indies in the Champions Trophy. One of the world's prominent fast bowlers, Asif, 26, was suspended from international cricket after testing positive for nandrolone while competing for Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League.
The paceman, however, believes he has matured during the spell on the sidelines, and is eager to start rebuilding his reputation against a weakened West Indies at The Wanderers. "I don't think I could get a better platform than the Champions Trophy to make my comeback," said Asif. "I have always liked bowling on the South African pitches. "I have learnt from my mistakes...I am grateful to the Pakistan Cricket Board, my teammates and my fans for supporting me," Asif added.
Although a final decision on the playing 11 is not due until this morning, the issue had the officials talking in a clouded veil of mystery, reiterating the player's lethal pedigree but also on guard about his comeback. "We have to be absolutely sure he is ready both mentally and physically for a comeback to international cricket," said the Pakistan team manager Yawar Saeed. "If they feel Asif is ready for his comeback then definitely it will be a big boost for the team - he is a quality bowler. The decision will be taken by team management," he added.
The captain Younus Khan, himself a doubt for today's game after suffering a hairline fracture on the little finger of his right hand during a warm-up match, gave a more restrained view of the clamour surrounding Asif's recall. "He is coming back after one year and it's not an easy thing to do," Khan said. "We don't expect him to take five or six wickets the moment he plays international cricket, it's not fair."
With the talismanic Shahid Afridi set to lead Pakistan in Khan's absence, Saeed backed his captain to be fit for Saturday's key clash against India in Centurion. "Even if Khan does not play against the West Indies, he will be fit in time for the big game against India," he said. With Australia and India also in the group, Pakistan will be keen on a flying start against the tournament winners in 2004.
Meanwhile, the ongoing row between the West Indies players and their board has deprived the fans of several big names like Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo. The Windies are expected to be nothing more than Pool A whipping boys, but captain Floyd Reifer was optimistic his make-shift side can prove the doubters wrong. "I want the people in the Caribbean to know this is a West Indies team dedicated to West Indies cricket. This is not a second-string team," stressed Reifer.
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