The Pakistan Cricket Board has given fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar a No Objection Certificate, clearing the way for him to play for Surrey in the English county championship. Surrey are at the bottom of the first division table and will have Shoaib's services for the remaining three matches as they fight to stave off relegation.
"We have cleared Shoaib to play county cricket," Shafqat Naghmi, the PCB's chief operating officer, told the News. "The bowler has been out of competitive cricket for quite sometime and needs to regain his match fitness. We believe a short county stint might help him in doing that."
The Pakistan board has been wary of allowing its fast bowlers to play county cricket because of the toll it takes on them. "We've been stopping our fast bowlers from playing for counties because in the past such stints have affected their form and fitness," Naghmi said. "But Shoaib's case is different. He hasn't played much cricket in recent times and can actually benefit from a county stint." The PCB had prevented Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif from taking up county contracts last year though it later compensated both financially for the loss of earnings.
Shoaib was expected to fly out to London on Wednesday. "I am honoured to play for a county like Surrey," he told AFP. "I will do my best to win all three matches for the county and I am fit and raring to go."
Shoaib has previously had county stints with Durham, Somerset and Worcestershire. He has played only one first-class match this year and was banned by the PCB for five years in April. The ban was subsequently suspended and Shoaib was picked for the Champions Trophy but he still has to pay a fine of Rs 7 million (approx US$92,000) to the board.
"The past eight months were disappointing, but now I am focused on my return," he said. "I want to bowl at least 15-20 overs in an innings and gain rhythm because we are hosting India late in the year."