Aaqib Javed believes Shoaib Akhtar's return to national colours will make Pakistan one of the favourites for the Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa in September.
Shoaib has played only a handful of ODIs and a single day of Test cricket for Pakistan since January last year, since when a combination of injuries, fitness troubles and a doping scandal have kept him out of the side.
But he is finally back to full fitness and strength and, according to Javed, hungry to return to the spotlight. "Shoaib is fit and is bowling really fast. He has been down and out for a long time and is hungry for wickets, which is why I am sure he is going to be the biggest star in the tournament," Aaqib told The News.
Pakistan's players are currently involved in the third leg of a gruelling summer camp schedule in Karachi, where they players are taking part in a series of Twenty20 games as practice for the tournament. Shoaib has been among the wickets in most games, selectors reporting that his pace has been swift. Though he isn't at the camp yet, he is due to join on Sunday. Aaqib, who is head coach at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore, is part of the camp as a bowling coach.
Shoaib's famed slower ball, which so flummoxed English batsmen in the 2005 home series, will be a useful weapon again, believes Aaqib. "With the sort of pace he has, Shoaib's slower delivery comes as a major surprise and in fast-paced matches it is going to cause major damage to any opposition."
Aaqib said that the support Shoaib will get, from the likes of Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul, makes Pakistan one of the favourites. "I count us among the favourites to win the tournament because we have some world class bowlers and a strong batting line-up.
"The Australians are a very balanced side and they would be the team to beat. South Africa and New Zealand also have the firepower to go all the way."