Mohsin Khan, Pakistan's chief selector, is concerned about finding replacements for Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, the trio suspended by the ICC in the spot-fixing scandal, for a tough, upcoming series against South Africa.
The three players were served notices on September 2 after the ICC felt they had "a case to answer", and were initially given two weeks to respond, though this has been extended on the players' request. Of the three, only Salman Butt has filed a formal appeal, while the other two have until October 15 to do the same.
The series of two Twenty20s, five ODIs and two Tests will be played in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and kicks off on October 26; Pakistan are scheduled to leave on October 23. It is highly unlikely any of the trio will be cleared - if at all - in time to take part in the series. In any case, Asif would not have played at all, as he is barred from entering the UAE after he was detained at Dubai airport in June 2008 for being in possession of a banned substance.
Butt's suspension leaves Pakistan without a Test captain as well and contemplating the prospect of appointing a fourth different captain for Tests this year. "They are three of our key players, and will be in the squad if cleared to play," Mohsin said. "It will be really tough for us to find their replacement in case they are not available to play against South Africa.
"We are waiting for the chairman [of the PCB, Ijaz Butt] to return from England," Mohsin said. "He is expected to return later this week after which we will sit down and finalise the team."
The absences mean that former captain Shoaib Malik, who was dropped for the ODIs against England after a poor show in the Tests, can realistically harbour hopes of another return. "I know my form was not very good in the Test matches but I will be back to playing domestic cricket and I am sure I can convince the selectors to give me another chance against South Africa," Malik said.
With the World Cup around the corner, Malik said Pakistan had to identify a core group for the showpiece event. "I think the time has come for the selectors to decide on a nucleus of say 18 to 20 players who can play in the World Cup. We don't have much time now to experiment, we need to start forming the World Cup combination."