Woolmer plays straight bat on day of selection speculation

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The Independent Online

Bob Woolmer had to spend much of yesterday silencing weird and wonderful rumours of improbable additions to his Pakistan squad for the second Test.

It was with increasing exasperation that the coach made it clear he anticipates no surprise call-ups to or defections from the team which will face England. Shoaib Akhtar will not be back from a stress fracture of his ankle either here or at Headingley next week - and Shahid Afridi, hit on the elbow in the nets yesterday, is not out for the series but is fit for selection.

Woolmer was unequivocal in setting those two records straight. By implication, he spelt out too - contrary to some bizarre whispers in Manchester - that Pakistan's bowling coach Waqar Younis is not about to be drafted in at the age of 34 to revive past glories in a pace contingent depleted by injuries.

Waqar's old partner Wasim Akram apparently ought not to pay too much heed either if he happens to hear on the grapevine he is to be called out of retirement on his old stamping ground. Woolmer made it no secret that he regards a day of denying gossip as anything but ideal Test preparation.

"It is very unsettling," he said. "There are lots of these rumours floating around, and I wish they'd stop. We have the side here. We're happy with the squad that we have; if we weren't happy with it we would ask other people to come in. Whatever is rumoured or is going round, we are quite happy with what is going on."

Woolmer confirmed the Sussex leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed as the only player who did come into the reckoning at one point as a surprise call-up. "We did consider Mushtaq," the coach said. "But we've had a look at the pitch and feel we have a balanced attack for it."

As for Shoaib, reportedly impatient to return to the fray, Woolmer is not about to yield to an obvious temptation to rush back Pakistan's most potent pace weapon.

"I'd love to have him on this particular pitch," he said. "Shoaib Akhtar on a bouncy pitch would be a handful - but he's not ready. He's still 10 days away from bowling. We don't have Shoaib Akhtar available for this Test, or the next Test match."

Instead, the three-man pace attack which operated in the drawn first Test at Lord's is likely to be complemented again by the wrist-spin of Danish Kaneria and the all-rounder Afridi.

Woolmer was confident all along that Afridi would be fit after his mishap. But again he had to contend with unfounded alternative suggestions.

"I believe there is a rumour circulating that he is out for the series," he said. "But he is not - he is fit and available to play tomorrow.We have 15 players fit and willing to play tomorrow, which is absolutely fantastic."

It is a relief to the coach that batsman Younis Khan is back from the injury which ruled him out at Lord's - giving the Pakistan squad a more solid base, despite the ongoing absence of three front-line pace bowlers.

"It leaves us with a selection problem - and it's a good thing to have these extra options, rather than the last game where we had literally 11 fit players," he said.