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New Zealand facing injury woes along with Pakistan ahead of test

AUCKLAND, March 7 (AFP) - New Zealand may lose in-form batsman Mark Richardson to injury a day out from the Thursday's first cricket Test against Pakistan at Eden Park.

The potential loss would be a double-blow for New Zealand after left-arm spin bowling whiz Daniel Vettori was ruled out, possibly for the series, earlier in the week.

Opener Richardson strained his lower back while batting at the team's final net training session at Eden Park Wednesday and was in severe enough doubt to have Lou Vincent called in as a possible replacement.

Richardson was to have intensive treatment from physiotherapist Mark Harrison and be re-assessed Thursday.

During the net session, Richardson appeared to feel a sharp pain in his lower back while settling into his stance.

"It's too early to tell. We need to give him the next 12 hours to settle down, then make a last-minute decision," Harrison said.

Richardson's absence would be a telling blow after he proved a revelation in his debut season. In six tests the 29-year-old scored 425 runs at an average of 47.22.

Vincent's possible introduction could see him either open or bat in the middle order if Mathew Sinclair moves up to partner the recalled Matthew Bell.

Vincent looked impressive during the one-day series and scored 57 batting at No 4 for New Zealand A against Pakistan at the weekend.

Meanwhile, pace bowler Daryl Tuffey completed a solid workout on his injured hip today and Harrison was confident he would play.

The news was also better for Pakistan, which after losing injured pair Wasim Akram and Saeed Anwar, could benefit from a return of vital middle-order batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq after a late recovery from injury.

Inzamam has not batted since injuring his groin in the fourth one-dayer 10 days ago and had his first net session Wednesday.

"He's still 50-50. I'm not sure, we'll have a look tomorrow morning," captain Moin Khan said.

"He's feeling much better and he's very keen to play. He'll tell us tomorrow morning."

Inzamam's presence will shore up a batting order with only Yousuf Youhana with any test experience. Newcomer Misbah-ul-Haq was a possibility to slot in to the middle order after arriving Tuesday.

Question marks remained over the portable pitch, although both captains seemed relatively happy.

"It looks a pretty good surface to be honest but there's a big question mark," New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming said.

New Zealand should take in a pace attack of Chris Martin, Tuffey and James Franklin with just one spinner, possibly Paul Wiseman.

That would mean a weakened lower order with Franklin or Wiseman coming in at No 8 but Fleming preferred to put the heat on the batsmen.

"It's not great but it puts the onus on the top seven. They've got to get the runs.

"We had the luxury in the past of Vettori and the other all-rounders. We've still got to take 20 wickets to win the test so it's a trade-off to go one way or the other."

That seemed to rule out Grant Bradburn's prospects of playing. The off-spinner adds batting strength but has a question mark over his wicket-taking ability.

Fleming said despite the Pakistan turmoil with players coming and going, hints of team disharmony and interference from home, he was still wary of his opponents.

"They rely more on individual skills more than team unity. They've been in this situation in the past."

Moin confirmed Anwar would stay with the tour. Batsman Faisal Iqbal and pace bowler Fazl-e-Akbar were set to arrive Wednesday and possibly veteran Ijaz Ahmed Thursday.

Moin was happy with the pitch and appeared keen to include both his top spinners Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq along with Waqar Younis and young tearaway Mohammad Sami.

"The pitch looks very good, it looks a bit dry and could help our spinners," Moin said.

"It's not very easy to come back after losing the one-day series but I think the boys are feeling good."

The weather was unsettled in Auckland with rain forecast for Thursday.

New Zealand (from): Stephen Fleming (captain), Matthew Bell, Mark Richardson or Lou Vincent, Mathew Sinclair, Nathan Astle, Craig
McMillan, Adam Parore, Grant Bradburn, James Franklin, Brooke Walker, Daryl Tuffey, Paul Wiseman, Chris Martin.

Pakistan (from): Moin Khan (captain), Salim Elahi, Imran Farhat, Younis Khan, Yousuf Youhana, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Misbah-ul-Haq,
Humayun Farhat, Abdur Razzaq, Saqlain Mushtaq, Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed, Fazl-e-Akbar, Mohammad Sami.
Umpires: Doug Cowie (Nzl), Russell Tiffin (Zim).

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