Shaheen Shah Afridi has been ruled out of the Asia Cup, as well as the seven-match T20I series at home against England in September, because of a knee injury. He faces a race against time to be fit for the T20 World Cup, starting October, after being advised "four-six weeks rest" by the PCB's medical advisory committee.
Afridi sustained the right knee ligament injury during the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle last month, and has played no part in the ongoing tour of the Netherlands despite being in the squad. Babar Azam said before the series that Afridi would play no more than one ODI against Netherlands, with a view to having him fit for the Asia Cup, which begins on August 27. His absence comes as a significant blow to Pakistan's tournament hopes.
"Shaheen's our best bowler, so of course we'll miss him," Pakistan's vice-captain Shadab Khan said. "It's unfortunate that he won't be available for the Asia Cup. But we're hopeful he will be available for future series and the World Cup. We'll have to play ruthless cricket. Our team culture is such that we never relax against any team."
The PCB said it expected Afridi to be fit for the October T20I tri-series in New Zealand, also involving Bangladesh, ahead of the T20 World Cup.
"I have spoken with Afridi and he is understandably upset with the news, but he is brave young man who has vowed to come back strongly to serve his country and team," Dr Najeebullah Soomro, PCB chief medical officer, said in a statement. "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."
With Pakistan's best bowler out of action until so close to the T20 World Cup, his fitness for the event has become uncertain.
In recent years, 22-year-old Afridi has established himself as Pakistan's frontline bowler across all three formats, and alongside Babar, is Pakistan's best known and most marketable cricketer. He has tended to play most of Pakistan's internationals, often without rest, but this is the first time he appears to have suffered a significant injury. He has 47 wickets in 40 T20Is, and has played at least 25 internationals in all three formats since his debut in 2018.
The PCB said Afridi would stay with the squad in the Netherlands to complete his rehabilitation, and a replacement for the Asia Cup would be announced soon.
Pakistan begin their Asia Cup campaign against India on August 28 in Dubai. Afridi had played a crucial role in Pakistan's 10-wicket victory against India in the 2021 T20 World Cup, which was the last time these two teams met. In that game, Afridi dismissed Rohit Sharma for a duck in the first over of the match, and bowled KL Rahul with the first ball of the third over. He picked up the Player-of-the-Match award for his spell of 3 for 31 in four overs.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000