Shoaib Akhtar's troubled career has taken yet another twist following a decision by the Pakistan board to send him back from Pakistan's 15-man squad for the ICC World Twenty20 after a dressing-room scuffle in which he was alleged to have hit fellow fast bowler Mohammad Asif with a bat.
The Pakistan Cricket Board has responded by handing Shoaib an indefinite ban, pending a disciplinary hearing that will be conducted once the team returns from South Africa.
"Shoaib's ban is an indefinite suspension," Nasim Ashraf, the board chairman, told Cricinfo. "There is no question of Shoaib returning to South Africa for the latter half of the tournament [in the event of Pakistan playing more than five matches]."
"When the team management returns [from the tournament], the board will launch a full investigation and disciplinary hearing into the matter. Further action based on that is likely," Ashraf said.
A press release issued on Friday by team manager Talat Ali in Johannesburg said, "The decision [to send him home] has been taken on an incident that took place yesterday [6th September] afternoon at the Centurion Park after the practice session of the Pakistan team. It was reported to us by Asif that Shoaib had hit him on his leg with a bat and abused him."
The bowler was already on six weeks' probation following a breach of discipline last month after he left a training camp in Karachi without informing officials. Two hearings were held, after which it was decided that a monetary fine would be suspended pending his behaviour. Ashraf indicated that action would be likely.
The sorry development means that Pakistan finds itself in the spotlight at a major international tournament once again for all the wrong reasons. Shoaib and Asif were sent back on the eve of their opening match at the Champions Trophy last year, after they had tested positive for banned anabolic steroids. During the World Cup in March, Pakistan's disastrous performance took backstage to the death of Bob Woolmer.
The decision will be a blow to the team's chances at the tournament, as Pakistan's strength was widely considered to lie in a pace attack that included Umar Gul and Rao Iftikhar Anjum. AFP, citing team sources, reported the PCB has picked Sohail Tanvir, an allrounder, as Shoaib's replacement.
In any case, a replacement will also depend on approval from the ICC's technical committee. The Participating Nations' Agreement, which every team signs when taking part in ICC tournaments, refers to the replacement of players and there is provision for a player to be replaced for reasons other than injury: "Except for medical grounds, players may only be replaced in exceptional circumstances such as family bereavement or where a player is suspended and such suspension relates to an incident which is unrelated to the event."