MOHALI: Pakistan fast bowler Umar Gul hopes Shoaib Akhtar is given one last chance to show what he can do against India in Wednesday's World Cup semi-final.
Akhtar, who will retire from international cricket after the World Cup, has featured in just three matches during Pakistan's run to the semi-finals.
And it seemed his last outing at this level would be a wretched return of one for 70 in a 110-run group stage thrashing by New Zealand in Pallekelle three weeks ago.
However, Akhtar's return -- and the result itself -- might have been decidely different had not erratic wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal dropped the simplest of catches off the express quick when New Zealand's Ross Taylor, who made a match-winning century, was still in single figures.
A clearly irate Akhtar never recovered his composure and a tournament return of three wickets at more than 40 apiece tells its own story.
Nevertheless Gul, who has taken 14 wickets at an impressive average of 14.50 at this World Cup, said Monday he would welcome the return of the 35-year-old Akhtar for the winner-takes-all clash.
“Shoaib Akhtar is an experienced bowler who has performed well against India. If he plays, it will take some of the pressure off me. When he was not there, there was a lot of pressure on me.”
And he insisted Akhtar had not been sidelined.
“The team management is not angry with Shoaib Akhtar. He has been rested for a few games to find fitness and form but has been practising now for two to three days.”
However, the 26-year-old Gul -- one of the world's best reverse-swing bowlers -- said he'd been getting used to open the bowling at the urging of Pakistan coach Waqar Younis, himself once an outstanding fast bowler.
“For the last two to three years, Waqar Younis has been telling me to get prepared to use the new ball in the World Cup. I have returned to my best form by bowling with the new ball again,” Gul explained.
Gul could well have been the 'third seamer' if Pakistan had come into the World Cup with the new-ball duo of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir.
But the pair, along with former Test captain Salman Butt, were banned for their roles in last year's 'spot-fixing' scandal in England.
“The past five to six months have seen a lot of pressures and scandals,” said Gul.
“We have done well against South Africa and winning both the Tests and one-dayers in New Zealand was a creditable effort. “In the dressing room, players are supporting each other and there is a lot of unity.”
Wednesday's match will be the first between the two Asian cricket giants on Indian soil since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and Gul said: “In both countries people want to see the teams play each other.
“Relations will be better if the teams play each other more often. Fans can't stand defeat but we have won six of seven matches so far and hope to play our best cricket against India.”