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Pakistan in crisis as crocked stars fly home

KARACHI, Pakistan, March 5 (AFP) - Pakistan's injury crisis has deepened with strike bowler Wasim Akram, opener Saeed Anwar and allrounder Azhar Mahmood all set to fly home just days before the first Test against New Zealand.

"The tour management has conveyed that Akram, Anwar and Mahmood are returning home and we will be sending replacements in the shortest possible time," Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Lieutenant General Tauqir Zia told AFP.

Akram has suffered a side strain and X-rays have ruled him out for a month, Anwar has groin and hip problems while Mahmood has foot and groin injuries.

Zia said uncapped opener Taufiq Umer and pace bowler Fazle Akbar, who has played just two Tests, would take two of the newly vacant spots on tour. Experienced middle order batsman Ejaz Ahmed has been tipped to take the third.

The latest injuries bring to four the number of players forced to abandon the injury-plagued team. Pace bowler Shoaib Akhtar returned home on Friday following a recurrence of a hamstring problem.

Vice captain and key batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq is also on the injury list with a groin problem which kept him out of final one-day international on Wednesday.

Pakistan has already been forced to dispatch four players, Arshad Khan, Younis Khan, Misbahul Haq and Humayun Farhat, to New Zealand.

Pakistan, who face New Zealand in the first Test in Auckland from Thursday, suffered an embarrassing innings defeat in a lead-up game against New Zealand "A" on Monday.

PCB chairman Zia dismissed suggestions the injury crisis is linked to a rift between coach Javed Miandad and senior players.

"One can't tell how serious are these injuries but I don't see players could go to this extent and feign injury," Zia said.

Seven senior players, including Wasim, fell out with Miandad on the eve of the series against England last year because of a dispute over sharing prize money.

The rift resurfaced when the team left for New Zealand and senior players objected to the size of Miandad's cut of a sponsorship deal.

Pakistan lost the one-day series to New Zealand 3-2 after starting as favourites with captain Moin Khan Miandad constantly forced to deny reports of a rift.

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