LAHORE: In a major setback for Pakistan, pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi on Saturday was ruled out of the upcoming T20 Asia Cup and the T20 home series against Engl­and as the medical panel has advised the bowler four to six weeks rest due to a right knee ligament injury he suffered during the Test series in Sri Lanka last month.

“Shaheen Shah Afridi has been advised 4-6 weeks rest by the PCB Medical Advisory Committee and independent specialists following [the] latest scans and reports. This means Shaheen has been ruled out of the ACC T20 Asia Cup and home series against England, but is expected to return to competitive cricket in October with the New Zealand T20I tri-series, which will be followed by the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Australia 2022,” a PCB press statement issued from Rotterdam, Holland stated.

Currently, the Pakistan squad is in Holland playing a three-match One-day Intern­a­tional series agai­n­st the hosts and left-armer Shah­een, despite carrying the inj­u­ry, was kept with the squad to continue his rehab and play any of the matches in case he regained full fitness.

In a message on social media, Shaheen said he will be back in action soon.

“Every player of our playing XI is a match-winner,” he posted on Twitter. “Wishing my team best of luck for upcoming Asia Cup. To the fans, keep me in your prayers for my quick recovery. I’ll be back soon.”

The 22-year-old Shaheen, who has developed himself into a world-class pace bow­ler, has represented Paki­stan regularly in all three formats since bursting onto the world stage in 2018. Seldom the lanky cricketer has been rested for international duty.

He suffered the knee injury while fielding during the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle.

The six-nation Asia Cup is scheduled to be held in the UAE from Aug 27 to Sept 11. The continental event will be followed by a seven-match T20 International series betw­een Pakistan and Engl­and in Karachi and Lahore from Sept 20 to Oct 2.

Then the all-important ICC T20 World Cup will be staged in Australia from Oct 16 to Nov 13.

Meanwhile commenting on Shaheen, PCB’s chief medical officer, Dr Najeeb­ullah Soomro said the player would come back strongly.

“I have spoken with Shaheen and he is understandably upset with the news, but he is a brave young man who has vowed to come back strongly to serve his country and team. Although he has made progress during his rehabilitation in Rotte­rdam, it is now clear he will require more time and is likely to return to competitive cricket in October,” Dr Najeebullah said.

“PCB’s Sports & Exercise Medicine Department will be working closely with the player over the coming weeks to ensure his safe return to competitive cricket.”

Shaheen will stay with the squad in Rotterdam to complete the rehabilitation programme. His replacement for the T20 Asia Cup will be announced shortly.

The Pakistan squad after playing the third and final ODI against the Netherlands on Sunday, will arrive in Dubai from Rotterdam on Monday.

Being an integral part of the national team in all formats, Shaheen’s absence in all likelihood is going to benefit Pakistan’s opponents particularly India in the Asia Cup.

In the 2021 T20 World Cup, which was also held in the UAE, Shaheen had destroyed India’s top-order batting as Pakistan thrashed Virat Kohli and company by ten wickets — the greenshirts’ first-ever win over their traditional rivals in a World Cup game.

During the last few years, the premier trio of captain Babar Azam, Shaheen and wicket-keeper/batter Mohammad Rizwan have played pivotal roles in Pakistan’s wins, particularly in T20 Internationals.

The pace and experience which Shaheen has gained in four years will create problems for the selectors to pick a suitable replacement of the Khyber Agency-born fast bowler.

Without Shaheen, Paki­stan’s pace attack looks weak. Though the likes of Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Wasim and Mohammad Hasnain have done in patches, they are yet to create a significant impact, as Shaheen has consistently done, in cut-throat international contests.

It may be mentioned here that in the last presser, Babar while responding to a question on managing the workload of himself, Shaheen and Rizwan, to avoid fitness problems, had said Shaheen was not unfit due to workload but was injured during fielding in the first Test at Galle.

“If a player has to play a lot of cricket, instead of reducing the workload he should increase his fitness level to meet the challenge,” was Babar’s reply at the presser.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2022

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