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Umar Gul to fly home after another injury

With Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami desperately trying to recover from chest infections, and Shoaib Malik, the captain, nursing a sore ankle, Pakistan's hopes of evening the series at the Eden Gardens were already looking slim. On Thursday morning, they suffered a huge blow when Umar Gul, who had missed the Delhi Test with a back strain, broke down again.

Gul will be sent back home for treatment and play no further part in the series. Yasir Arafat, the allrounder, has been named as his replacement.

Arafat is yet to play a Test, but is likely to make his debut at Eden Gardens on Friday. Arafat will be joining the team on the back of some good performances for Khan Research Laboratories in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, Pakistan's premier domestic competition. He has taken 28 wickets in four matches with his skiddy right-arm medium pace, besides an average of nearly 62 with the bat, including a hundred.

Arafat also did well for Kent during this season's County Championship, and was included in the Pakistan team for the ICC World Twenty20 after being part of the Kent team that won the Twenty20 Cup.

As things stand, only Sohail Tanvir, all of one Test old, and Danish Kaneria are fit among the first-choice bowling option and, given the paucity of choice, Abdur Rehman, the left-arm spinner, appears certain to play.

"Umar bowled at full strength yesterday," Malik said at the pre-match press conference. "But he felt pain again today and is being sent for treatment. It's a crucial Test, one we have to win, and we've talked to the selectors and given them a few options. It's up to them now."

There was some good news for Pakistan as batsman Misbah-ul-Haq is recovering from the flu that troubled him during the first Test. Pakistan's media manager, Ehsan Malik, told Cricinfo that Misbah is likely to be fit for the second Test.

Neither Shoaib or Sami were at the ground for the morning practice session, and Ehsan Malik was circumspect when asked about their chances of making the eleven. "They both have a chest infection and are under treatment," he said. "They have recovered a little, but we'll wait till morning before we decide."

Shoaib Akhtar was easily Pakistan's most impressive bowler at the Feroze Shah Kotla and, with the squad now down to the bare bones, Malik insisted that four specialist bowlers would be needed come Friday morning. "We don't have many options, we have to win this Test," he said. "The replacements may come this evening."

His own situation also uncertain. "I did some jogging and walked a little," he said. "But I felt quite a lot of pain. I'll have another fitness test tomorrow morning and see what happens. We're struggling, but hopefully we'll all be fit."

If he does miss out, his place in the batting order will go to Faisal Iqbal, who scored a century in Pakistan's massive 341-run win at Karachi in 2006. The responsibility of leading the side will then rest with Younis Khan, who was also in charge for that game.

Malik shrugged off criticism of his captaincy from greats of the past like Imran Khan and recent comrades like Shahid Afridi, and said that the team was doing its best to keep the morale high. "If you lose, these things happen," he said. "We need to take it [the criticism] positively. It's a tough time, but we're professionals, and we've all played for the country with small niggles before."

With no idea what the playing eleven was likely to be, the state of the pitch wasn't exactly a high priority. "It looks a good batting track," said Malik, "but later on, it should take some turn."

There were words of support too for Kaneria, after criticism of his performance in the second innings at Delhi. "Like every spinner, Danish needs time and long spells," said Malik. "We didn't bat well, and he struggled because of that."

An under-strength Pakistan team pulled off a series-levelling victory at Bangalore on their last tour of India but, given the current injury and health crisis, that proud record of not losing a series on Indian soil since the 1979-80 tour is in grave danger. It isn't just Kaneria that needs time. Unfortunately, it's the one thing that isn't on Pakistan's side as they head into what the great Imran would have called a cornered-tiger situation.



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