Umar Gul is due to travel to Australia for a medical check-up on a longstanding back problem, and one that prevented him from taking any part in the Test series against India last year. It puts in to some doubt his availability for the series against Australia, due to be held in March-April.
"I will be going to Sydney in a couple of days' time, but it is just for a check-up on the back," Gul told "It is the same problem that troubled me in India and though I have been doing my training in the gym, I haven't bowled since. If they clear me, then I will begin bowling again."
Whether or not the problem is linked to the stress fractures of the back that kept him out of the game for over a year soon after his entry into international cricket in 2003-04 is not entirely clear.
According to a board official, doctors confirmed that there was degeneration of a bone in his back, a condition that was initially spotted three years ago; around the same time of the first injury. "It was initially spotted three years ago and the MRI scan before the Delhi Test showed this again," Shafqat Naghmi, the Pakistan board's chief operating officer,
"The doctor said he didn't see further deterioration which is a positive but Gul complained of pain so it needs to be looked at. The board decided then that we should seek another opinion and that is why he is travelling to Sydney. If it had been a new injury, it would've been problematic but as it is the same one as before, it is a positive."
Whether or not Gul will be fit in time for Australia's scheduled visit in March-April is unclear. Naghmi only said the situation will be clearer once the doctors have seen him in Australia. "We can't say right now but let's just keep our fingers crossed."
Indeed Pakistan will, for Gul has developed over the last two years, into one of their brightest fast-bowling prospects. He has been, unfortunately, an injury-prone one, having also missed an entire series in South Africa last year with an ankle injury. It has limited him to just 16 Test appearances since his debut. Gul wasn't selected for the recent series of five ODIs against Zimbabwe, on grounds of fitness and selectors asked him to prove his fitness in the upcoming Pentangular Trophy, to begin from February 10. But he will definitely not play now in at least the first round of matches for NWFP.
Pakistan are also waiting on their other promising young fast bowler, Mohammad Asif, to recover from an elbow injury that has kept him out of cricket since October last year. Asif underwent surgery on his right elbow in Australia at the start of the year and has since started bowling. But Naghmi said it would be another 2-3 weeks before his fitness could be properly assessed.