Mohammad Asif will miss at least the first three matches of the ODI series against India with a long-standing elbow problem, the Pakistan board announced on the day of the team's departure to Delhi.
Asif missed four of the five ODIs against South Africa last month because of his right elbow injury and has not recovered sufficiently to play against India. Due to the uncertain nature of the injury, the extent of his participation in the ODIs remains in doubt and a replacement has not yet been sought. Board sources, however, told Cricinfo that Asif is likely to miss the entire ODI series and his participation in the Test series is in doubt.
"He felt pain in the elbow after the Multan ODI [against South Africa, on October 26]. We don't know the extent of the injury,"
Shafqat Naghmi, the Pakistan board's chief operating officer, said.
"He may be fit enough to go to India after three matches so we haven't yet announced a replacement as there are four fast bowlers in the squad anyway."
The elbow injury has lately plagued what has been an outstanding start to Asif's international career. Last year, he missed three Tests against England and the problem flared up during the tour to South Africa in January this year. Some contend it is linked to the often heavy workload Asif has carried out in Tests.
Naghmi said the problem was a rare one.
"It is not something that happens a lot. Surgery will not resolve it, nor will medicine. He just needs to strengthen the muscles around the elbow area."
"David Dwyer [Pakistan's fitness trainer] has devised a rehabilitation program for him and he will follow that. This is a problem the player himself knows about first. If he feels fit he will go to India as soon as possible."
"It's a big loss,"
Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik said.
"We will try to overcome the loss and hope that it would not affect the team's performance in the series."
Asif expressed his disappointment at missing the tour and said he was hopeful of being fit in time for the Tests.
"It is a big disappointment because a tour to India is always important and I wanted to be part of the team,"
The pull-out is the latest in a series of late withdrawals by the bowler: along with Shoaib Akhtar, the pair was pulled out from the World Cup squad at the last minute earlier this year. And last year, a day before the Champions Trophy in India, Asif - and Shoaib again - were called back to Pakistan a day before their opening match against Sri Lanka, after dope tests revealed traces of an anabolic steroid.
Pakistan's pace attack remains a potentially strong one even without Asif. Rao Iftikhar Anjum ended the recent ODI series against South Africa as the joint-highest wicket-taker and a much-improved first-change option. Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir were not as consistent, though they bowled well in patches. But Asif's absence places the heaviest burden on Shoaib, who returned to international cricket on Monday.
In his first spell of international action since January - and his first ODI in 13 months - Shoaib took four wickets without ever appearing to operate at optimum fitness through the nine overs. But with Asif's return unclear, Pakistan will hope that Shoaib can overcome the problems of a traditionally fragile body and lead the attack through five ODIs and three Tests.