`Include Shoaib` chorus grown as Gul joins in

Mohali: Pakistan pace spearhead Umar Gul and team manager Intikhab Alam have joined the growing clamour for the inclusion of retiring fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar for the high-voltage World Cup semifinal against India here on Wednesday.

"Shoaib Akhtar is an experienced bowler who has performed well against India," Gul said today of Akhtar who has been kept out of the team after the 100-run loss to New Zealand in a World Cup group match.

"If he plays, it will take some of pressure off me. When he was not there, there was a lot of pressure on me," he said.

"The team management is not angry with Shoaib. He has been rested for a few games to find fitness and form but has been practising now for two to three days," added Gul.

Gul was not alone in calling for the inclusion of the 35-year-old Akhtar, who has struggled for form in the mega-event.

Pakistan team manager Intikhab Alam has also supported Akhtar, saying he has been giving it his all in the nets.

"Shoaib has been fully involved in match practice, and is available for selection. He`s very much part of the squad and there is no question about his motivation or enthusiasm to play in this important game. Akhtar is ready for the semifinal," he was quoted as saying by a website.

Alam, who coached Pakistan to a previous World Cup victory in Australia in 1992 and the Twenty20 World Cup in England in 2009, dismissed reports that Akhtar`s focus was no longer on cricket after announcing his retirement from international cricket last week.

"The rumours about Shoaib no longer focussing on cricket after announcing his retirement are false. Shoaib has been training hard with team mates throughout the tournament and it`s been no different since he announced his retirement. He has taken part fully in training and not missed any sessions."

Akhtar had been nursing a knee injury before the World Cup.

"I wouldn`t say Shoaib is 100 per cent match fit. He`s been carrying a knee problem and has been in pain during the tournament, but to his credit has still managed to play some matches," Alam said.

Pakistan vice-captain Misbah-ul-Haq has also praised the fast bowler.

"Shoaib Akhtar is a class bowler. He has performed for Pakistan on a number of occasions including the 1999 World Cup. If he does play in coming matches, I feel it will give us a psychological advantage," he said.

Earlier, former captains Imran Khan and Wasim Akram had also advocated Akhtar`s inclusion in the team saying that the temperamental pacer is always at his best on a big stage.

"I feel he deserves a place for sure. Shoaib`s only problem in this World Cup has been his second spell. I have advised him to warm up before the second spell and that will help him," Akram has said.

"Shoaib against the Indians is always very dangerous. I know it is a big risk, but luck favors the brave."