Dark clouds over Pakistan's New Zealand tour
Pakistan approach this year's tour of New Zealand with two major worries oppressing them. The spot-fixing crisis inquiry is expected to a reach preliminary conclusion in January now that Salman Butt's request to postpone the proceedings has been rejected. The result will strike like lightning in the middle of Pakistan's tour, and could trigger a further descent into chaos.
The accused players appear unlikely to quietly accept a lengthy ban or suspension. If that happens, expect the circus to move to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, especially as defence lawyers are already making noises about the ICC process and conflicts of interest.
Uncertainty over three of Pakistan's leading players in addition to the PCB's reluctance to clear Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal, and Danish Kaneria for selection has left Pakistan's World Cup plans in disarray. Five of those cricketers would probably have walked straight into the World Cup squad. Their absence has an effect on Pakistan's batting but a greater one on the bowling.
Pakistan must assume the worst about Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, and use the New Zealand tour to identify the bowlers who will lead the attack in the World Cup. A South Asian World Cup makes it difficult for any pace bowler to have an impact but a high-class and confident performer is less likely to be slaughtered on batsmen-friendly wickets.
This particular World Cup has unusual poignancy for Pakistan, who were stripped of the right to co-host the tournament because of the prevailing security environment. The PCB has been licking its wounds ever since, sidelined in the great cricket game of South Asia.
Pakistan's hopes rest on Umar Gul finding a method in 50-overs cricket that proves as effective as his Twenty20 approach, and upon the bounding pace of Wahab Riaz. There is a distinct lack of quality in the support cast unless Shoaib Akhtar discovers some more stamina and better economy.
The batting is similarly troubled with the form of Umar Akmal being one of Pakistan's major worries. Umar's temperament has been a bitter disappointment for Pakistan fans, another talent on the brink of banishment to the wilderness. Pakistan's one-day batting formula, just like its bowling equivalent, is experimental and unformed.
Yet despite these quandaries Pakistan managed to push South Africa close in the United Arab Emirates, a demonstration of spirit if nothing else. New Zealand will prove to be a very different environment despite the Kiwis' recent poor form. But if Pakistan are to gather any momentum for the World Cup, they will certainly need to avoid defeat in New Zealand in both ODIs and Test cricket, as well as develop a settled team.
Either way, this will be the first time since 1983 when Pakistan supporters will approach a World Cup without considering their team as a genuine contender.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here