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PCB plays down reports of rift

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has downplayed reports of a rift that has emerged between the national selection committee and the team's management over a number of issues, mostly revolving around the make-up of the team.

The schism first emerged on Pakistan's tour to India, with what appeared initially to be a miscommunication over the identity of a replacement player. The selectors, in apparent agreement with the coach and captain, had initially agreed on calling up Abdur Rauf as replacement for the injured Umar Gul.

Having announced it officially during the second Test at Kolkata, the board changed tack later that evening and decided to send Rao Iftikhar Anjum instead. It is now understood that Shoaib Malik, the captain, and coach Geoff Lawson had wanted Iftikhar Anjum all along and convinced the board directly later, thus bypassing the selection committee.

Since then, has learnt, there have been continuing disagreements over the playing XI in the current series against Zimbabwe. The selection committee has been keen to use the opportunity to blood new players in various positions. In particular, they were adamant that Nasir Jamshed should make his debut as opener; the team management, as well as Malik were instead eager to use Kamran Akmal as opener and play an extra bowler in place of Shahid Afridi.

Before the series began, a heated debate is said to have taken place between Salahuddin Ahmed, chairman of selectors, and Geoff Lawson, the coach, over the matter. But as a result of a recent policy shift, it is now the selection committee that decides on the final playing XI during a home series.

Jamshed has thus played and made an immediate impact in his first two ODIs. But Pakistan have also appeared a bowler short in both games, struggling to bowl out Zimbabwe with only three specialist bowlers and five realistic bowling options in total.

Nasim Ashraf, chairman PCB, didn't deny the reports, but sought to play them down instead, claiming them to be nothing more than everyday professional tussles. "Everyone is operating within their sphere of responsibility," he told reporters in Hyderabad.

"Both the selection committee and team management have separately told me in the last few days that they have a good relationship. If they don't disagree on matters during meetings, what is the point of having these meetings at all? This is healthy debate and not signs of a rift."

Sources close to the matter maintain, however, that the issue is swiftly developing into more than just professional differences in opinion. One source adds that there has been another run-in with Malik following Pakistan's win in the first ODI at Karachi. The last selection committee, headed by Wasim Bari, was widely thought to be little more than a rubber-stamp for Inzamam-ul-Haq's choices while he was captain, particularly towards the end of its tenure. The current committee, the first in Pakistan's history to employ full-time, paid selectors, is understandably keen to avoid a similar situation with Malik and eager to assert its authority.

Ashraf also played down the contents of a report by manager Talat Ali following the tour to India, in which, according to a couple of local newspapers, the contributions of Younis Khan, Gul and Shoaib Akhtar have come under fire. The report is due to be discussed at a meeting of the board's governing committee in Karachi on January 25.

"We expect everybody to give an honest opinion in a respectful way," said Ashraf. "We expect the manager and the coach to do this in their reports. The governing board is looking at the issue and the report will be discussed professionally. The idea of these reports is not to apportion blame but to learn from mistakes on future tours."

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