Afridi best choice for captaincy: Mushtaq Muhammed

LONDON: Pakistan great Mushtaq Mohammad believes controversial all-rounder Shahid Afridi is the right man to "lead from the front" as they prepare to defend their World Twenty20 title.

Afridi has long been one of the world''s leading one-day players and his aggressive batting and leg-spin bowling were instrumental in Pakistan winning the World Twenty20 in England last year.

"Pakistan are a team in the making at the moment and Shahid Afridi is quite a force in the shorter form of cricket," Mushtaq told reporters at Lord''s here on Monday.

"He won us the (Twenty20) World Cup here last summer. He is a very positive cricketer and we need somebody to lead Pakistan from the front."

Afridi has been appointed to captain the side at this year''s World Twenty in the West Indies, which starts later this month, after a chaotic period even by the standards of Pakistani cricket.

Pakistan will head to the Caribbean without former captains and star batsmen Younus Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, who were among a group of leading players, including Rana Naved and Shoaib Malik, banned by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) after their team''s December-February tour of Australia ended without a single international win for the visitors.

And the 30-year-old Afridi was fined three million rupees (35,000 dollars) by the PCB for ball-tampering in a one-day match against Australia in Perth in February, although he appealed Tuesday saying it was unfair to punish him twice after he was hit with a two-game ban by the International Cricket Council.

"Pakistan have lost a lot of their key players," Mushtaq, one of Pakistan''s greatest batsmen, said.

"But I hope they will come round and get the senior players to strengthen the team."

Mushtaq, a former Pakistan captain and coach, was at Lord''s for the launch of the sponsorship by Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the ground''s owners, of the Pakistan-Australia Test and Twenty20 series in England in July.

The neutral series are being staged in England because Pakistan has become a no-go area for the world''s leading nations following last year''s armed attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore.

Mushtaq, 66, said he hoped international cricket would return to Pakistan but held out little hope of a resumption anytime soon.

"Not in the near future, the political and security situation has to improve for us to convince foreign teams to come and play cricket in Pakistan," he said. "It will take a little while.

"Pakistan having to play a home series away from home is never a very healthy sign for Pakistan cricket," Mushtaq, also a former leg-spinner, added.

"Cricket lovers in Pakistan at the moment are deprived of watching their team. It''s very sad."

But Mushtaq, four of whose five brothers played for Pakistan as well, said MCC''s backing for the neutral series - the first in England for nearly a century - was a welcome boost.

"At a time like this, when Pakistani cricket is going through turbulence, you need your friends to help you out and MCC have done just that."

Pakistan''s players will have two matches in which to get their names on the honours boards at Lord''s this year when, after their July Test against Australia, they return to the ''home of cricket'' for the fourth and final Test against England in August.

Mushtaq may have scored 10 centuries in 57 Tests during a 20-year career that stretched from 1959 to 1979, and got to know Lord''s well while playing for English county side Northamptonshire, but his name is absent from those displayed in the Lord''s dressing rooms.

"It is a great thing to get your name on the honours board here," Mushtaq said. "I''m not that lucky. I played a lot of cricket on this ground but that is one thing I never achieved."