Pakistan's preparations for the ICC World Twenty20 have been rocked by an "incident" between Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif in Johannesburg which has led to the latter injuring his leg.
According to sources, the two were allegedly involved in a dressing-room spat which resulted in Asif being struck by a bat on his left thigh. The injury is not thought to be anything more serious than a bruise but a team investigation into the matter is now pending and an announcement is expected tomorrow.
Ahsan Malik, the board spokesman currently traveling with the team, confirmed to reporter that there was a row though he refused to expand on the details.
"There was an incident between Shoaib and Asif in the dressing room soon after practice today. I cannot give any details on the matter. Asif has a bruise on his left thigh but he has had X-rays and has been cleared. He is fine as far as I am aware."
"The team management is carrying out an investigation into the matter and the results are expected tomorrow. We cannot say anything right now about sending players back or replacements,"
Whatever the actual detail of the matter, it is likely to have serious repercussions for Shoaib, who is already on probation for a disciplinary breach last month. He was fined for leaving a training camp in Karachi without seeking permission last month, but after two hearings the penalty was suspended and the bowler placed on a six-week probationary period.
More significant than the immediate future of the two players, however, is the effect this is likely to have on Pakistan's preparations. The side had arrived in Johannesburg earlier today after an impressive performance in a four-nation warm-up tournament in Nairobi, Kenya. They arrived with some confidence, their optimism about prospects in the tournament based partly on the strength of a formidable first-choice pace attack. Had all gone to plan, this would have been the first time Shoaib, Asif and Umar Gul played in the same line-up in any international.
Instead, the development now bears an eerie resemblance to the doping scandal which saw Shoaib and Asif return to Pakistan on the eve of their opening ICC Champions Trophy match last year. It also continues a catastrophic spiral into chaos that began with the fiasco at the Oval Test last year and has continued unabated since, taking in captaincy and administrative changes, the doping scandal, an early World Cup exit and Bob Woolmer's death at the same event.
Pakistan play their first match of the tournament on September 12 against Scotland.