ISLAMABAD // Fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar's bid to play in the English County Championship has been given the blessing of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). "He (Akhtar) had requested for a No Objection Certificate, which we have issued to him, and we have no problems if he wants to play in county cricket," the PCB chief operating officer Shafqat Naghmi said today. Akhtar, who has not played first class cricket since a Test match against India in December, is expected to join English county side Surrey, who currently prop up the rest of the Division One table with three matches to go. "Akhtar has not played competitive cricket for months and he needs to regain match fitness," Mr Naghmi said. "We believe a short county stint might help him in doing that."
The 33-year-old Akhtar has previously played for English counties Somerset, Worcestershire and Durham. The fast bowler - known as the "Rawalpindi Express" - had a troubled 2008 in which he managed to win selection in the Pakistan team for the Champions Trophy limited-overs tournament after a court in Lahore suspended his 18-month. The International Cricket Council (ICC) subsequently postponed the Champions Trophy for a year after four leading teams - England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand - expressed security concerns over playing in Pakistan.
In the past, the PCB had strong reservations over its cricketers - especially fast bowlers - competing in county cricket. Over the last two years it has refused permission to pacemen Umar Gul and Rao Iftikhar to play in English County Championship. "Akhtar's case is a bit different," Mr Naghmi said. "He needs some matches to test his fitness." Akhtar was the fastest bowler in cricket at his peak, but his 46-Test career has been restricted by injuries and discipline breeches.
In 46 Test matches, Akhtar has taken 178 wickets at an average of 25.69 and 219 wickets at 23.2 in 138 limited-overs internationals. In 2006, Akhtar and fellow Pakistan speedster Mohammad Asif tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone just before the Champions Trophy in India. The PCB initially banned the players for one and two years respectively, but the bans were overturned on appeal.