HAMPSHIRE have confirmed that they are set to bring Pakistan's electric paceman Shoaib Ahktar to the Rose Bowl this summer as the search for Shane Warne's replacement continues, writes ALEX NAREY.
Paul Terry, the Hampshire manager, indicated at the end of last month that he wanted a top quality seam bowler after their captain-to-be was handed his one-year ban.
Those thoughts appear not to have changed and while all-rounder Wasim Akram was considered to be the ideal chioce, The News can confirm that the Rose Bowl side have tabled an offer for his opening bowling partner Shoaib.
The ‘Rawlpindi Express' is currently still in South Africa after his side's early elimination from the World Cup — where he of course broke the 100mph speed barrier for a single delivery against England.
A club source confirmed that a one-year contract has been put to the 27-year old but that he would not be returning home for a week. However, Hampshire appear confident of bringing the hot-headed paceman to West End for the forthcoming season.
Shoaib has had by all accounts a fairly turbulent time of things at international level. From career threatening injuries to problems concerning his action — he has rarely been out of the spotlight for which he thrives under so much.
At present the club could not confirm any response from the Pakistani opener but speculation will contniue and there are still others in the frame, including India's Javagal Srinath and the ageing Wasim.
Despite his fellow countrymen performing so miserably at the World Cup in South Africa — and amongst those who did, it has to be said, was Shoaib himself — Wasim continued to put in the performances that we have become so accustomed to. He deserved far better in what could be his final swan song in a Pakistani shirt.
His international record is quite phenomenal. In 104 Test matches his 414 wickets have come at just 23.62 runs apiece and he also has two Test hundreds to his name whilst his one-day record is second to none with 502 wickets and 3,717 runs scored.
The stumbling block with Wasim is whether he sees it fit to come over to England again at the age of 36. His glory days on the county circuit appeared to be just a distant memory after his successful and lengthy spell with Lancashire and the question has to be asked; would he want to be putting his body through the stresses and strains of another English summer?
Despite making his Test debut back in 1984/85, it was during Pakistan's 1992 tour of England that Wasim really came to the forefront of World cricket.
He had just turned in a man-of-the-match performance in the 1992 World Cup final against England. Then, with the help of his long-term bowling partner and also playing rival Waqar Younis, he mesmerised England's summer series with his pace and late swinging yorkers that resulted in a few broken toes and even more broken timbers. He was bestowed the honour of being one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year for his efforts.
If Wasim is to come to the Rose Bowl for another summer in the sun, then what exactly can he bring to the side along with his extreme pace? His cricketing brain for one will be a huge bonus to whoever is to lead the team due to his experience of captaincy with the national side. Meanwhile, his aggressive batting will add plenty of weight to a line-up that on far too many occasions last year proved to light for the cause.
There is no doubt that Warne's bowling will be missed though, but let us not forget that Simon Katich bowls more than occasional chinamen and then there is last season's player of the year — Shaun Udal.
Speaking exclusively to The News, Udal made no attempt to hide his disappointment that Warne would not be playing for the county this season.
However, he gave fans some hope for optimism by saying that the Australian was planning a visit to The Rose Bowl in 2003: "It's obviously disappointing that Shane will not be playing this season. We were looking forward to having him back and he was expected to bowl a huge amount of overs as well.
"I have spoken to him and he feels the same but I think he is going to come over here anyway."
Udal also spoke about his future and the possibility of representing England again, adding: "I still have ambitions to play for England. You play county cricket to play for your country. Why I don't get picked I don't know because I still think I am the best in the country and I have tried to make myself heard. However, my main aim is to carry on playing as well as I can for Hampshire. That is my number one priority."
The off-spinner has a point regarding his non-selection. If there was a better and more consistent turner in the country last year then I would like to see him playing for England. But the bottom line remains that there wasn't. If the England selectors were to put their hands up and say that they wanted to make a clean start then it would be understandable but that is something that they have never done and for that reason Udal is entitled to feel frustrated.
However, England's loss will be Hampshire's gain as another fine season looms for the former Cove player.
For more news regarding Hampshire's new signing see Tuesday's Mail.