Karachi, Jan 26: Former Pakistan captain Imran Khan extended his support to fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, saying he should have been kept with the team despite his injury problems, it was reported by the Pakistan media Thursday.
"You keep your match winners with the team and Akhtar`s only two bursts put Pakistan in the match winning position in the Port Elizabeth Test," Imran was quoted as saying by Dawn.
Akhtar announced his return to Test cricket with a brilliant four wickets for 36 in the first innings of the second Test against South Africa last week before tearing his hamstring muscle.
The fast bowler did not bowl in the second innings of the Test, which Pakistan won by five wickets Monday. He was due to miss the third Test starting at Cape Town from Friday and has been asked to return home.
Imran emphasised injury is part and parcel of a fast bowler`s career.
"Every fast bowler gets unfit and because of his action and speed. Akhtar has more fitness problems but that doesn`t mean you don`t play him at all. He won Pakistan the most important series against England in 2005," reminded Imran, referring to Akhtar`s 17 wickets, which guided Pakistan to a 2-0 Test series win over England.
England had then come to Pakistan on the back of regaining the Ashes from Australia after 18 years.
Akhtar, however, had to undergo twin knee operations in February last year and missed Pakistan`s tours of Sri Lanka and England.
His career was also hit by a failed doping test in October last year when he was banned for two years in November before an appellate committee lifted the ban on the grounds that he took the banned substances unknowingly.
To add further woes to his recent injury, Akhtar`s verbal spat with coach Bob Woolmer in Port Elizabeth also hit the headlines and the team management fined him an undisclosed sum after a disciplinary hearing.
Imran felt not selecting the fast bowler in the original 17-man squad was a great injustice.
"I would blame the selectors for not selecting Akhtar in the original squad and it was the Pakistan Cricket Board chief (Nasim Ashraf) who selected him and sent him as a replacement.
"When I was the captain I selected unfit leg-spinner Abdul Qadir for the tour of England in 1987 and paceman Wasim Akram for the West Indies tour a year later, simply because they remained with the team and got fit."
Imran reckoned Akhtar`s verbal spat with Woolmer was his reaction for not being selected.
"He (Akhtar) would have been angry for not being selected in the first place, so he would have lost his temper."