The curse of the Pakistan pace spearhead has struck once again, an injured shoulder almost certain to rule Mohammad Abbas out of Pakistan's deciding Test against New Zealand next week. But Pakistan's worst early fears, that it may also potentially affect his participation for the South Africa tour next month, have been allayed*.
Abbas injured his right shoulder diving in the field during Pakistan's innings win against New Zealand in Dubai. He played through the Test with painkillers but a shoulder scan on Wednesday prompted fears about the nature of the injury.
The results were sent to a shoulder specialist and the team's early assessments suggested he could be out for anywhere between three weeks and four months. It now appears, however, that the injury is not as serious as initially thought and though the Abu Dhabi Test is likely to a write-off for him, he could be fit again in time for the first Test against South Africa, at Centurion on Boxing Day.
"[Abbas] underwent a scan on Wednesday which confirmed an injury to his shoulder," the PCB said. "He will undergo further clinical assessment before we make a final decision regarding his availability for the 3rd Test."
The injury might help explain the muted nature of his impact in the second innings, although that was the third innings in a row in this series he had gone without a wicket. That brief drought - and the second innings in the first Test in Abu Dhabi last week was the first time he had gone wicketless in a Test innings - stands in stark contrast to the riches of his career since his debut last year, a time in which he has swiftly become Pakistan's main fast-bowling weapon on any surface he has come across.
Since his debut Abbas has helped Pakistan win Tests in the West Indies, Ireland, England and, most recently and explosively, in the UAE, where he became the first Pakistani fast bowler in 12 years to take ten wickets in a Test. Seventeen wickets in the two Tests against Australia - and 61 overall in 12 - saw him break a number of records and soar up the ICC's Test rankings chart, prompting Dale Steyn no less to tweet: "I see a new number 1 Test bowler coming... Mohammad Abbas".
If Abbas recovers in time, Steyn will have an opportunity to see him up close during Pakistan's three Tests across December and January. Abbas has suffered a SLAP (Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior) lesion in his right shoulder as a result of his dive but it is now not believed to be as high grade as were the initial fears.
In terms of the next Test, Abbas's injury might pave the way for a debut for Shaheen Afridi, the young left-arm fast bowler who has burst into the national side with such impressive results this season. Even though Abu Dhabi is a decider, it is the assignment after that for which Pakistan will want to ensure Abbas is ready. As their most potent fast-bowling weapon in years, in a country and on surfaces where he could reasonably be expected to thrive, his presence will be crucial to any hope Pakistan may hold in South Africa, a land in which their Test record is otherwise poor.
*This article has been edited to reflect an update on Abbas's injury scans