Former Pakistan cricket legend Imran Khan said yesterday the "harsh" bans handed to Pakistan's two key pace bowlers had dealt a major blow to the team's World Cup chances.
A Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) tribunal on Wednesday banned pace spearhead Shoaib Akhtar for two years and teammate Mohammad Asif for one year after the pair tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone.
"There has to be an example set for future generations as steroids are harmful and banned -- but without knowing the details of the judgment I would say it's a harsh decision," he said from New Delhi.
The three-man panel headed by an ex-provincial governor, Shahid Hamid, held a two-week investigation and ruled the duo failed to prove their innocence. Both players waived their right to have their `B' samples tested.
"Their ban will severely reduce Pakistan's chances in next year's World Cup in the West Indies," said former captain Khan, who led Pakistan to their only Cup win in 1992.
Allrounder Khan is in the Indian capital for the Champions Trophy -- the competition from which Akhtar, 31, and Asif, 23, were withdrawn on Oct. 16 after the drugs claims surfaced.
The bans were the first involving performance-enhancing drugs in international cricket. Akhtar's ban was also the heaviest ever for a cricketer found guilty of taking drugs.
The pair have the right to appeal for a review within seven days to the tribunal; to appeal against the ban to the PCB within the next 30 days; or to raise the ban in the Court of Arbitration of Sports in Switzerland.
Pakistan's chief selector Wasim Bari said the ban was "tragic" for Pakistan's chances in the World Cup.
"Both Akhtar and Asif are experienced, wicket-taking bowlers and their absence means Pakistan will be without key strike bowlers," said Bari, also a previous Pakistan skipper.
Former captain and coach Javed Miandad said the ban spelled an end to the mercurial career of Akhtar, who bowled the fastest delivery ever recorded in 2003.
"Akhtar will find it very difficult to stage a comeback and two years will make a lot of difference to his bowling," said Miandad, who was replaced as coach by English-born Bob Woolmer in 2004.
"But Asif is young and he can stage a comeback," added Miandad.
Miandad urged the PCB to come up with a plan B for the World Cup next year in the West Indies.
"We need to have an emergency plan for the World Cup if we want good results," said Miandad, who was Pakistan's best batsman in the 1992 World Cup.
Akhtar's former teammate and captain from 2003-2004, Rashid Latif, asked why the two bowlers were handed different bans for the same offence.
"It's harsh to ban Akhtar for two years and I can't say the tribunal's decision is impartial. It is an attempt to end Akhtar's career," said Latif. "When a penalty is imposed it should be equal for both offenders."
Popular allrounder Shahid Afridi, a teammate of the banned pair in the current Pakistan set-up, described the ban as disappointing.
"We will definitely miss both Asif and Akhtar in the World Cup and Asif's confidence will be hurt by this penalty. It is disappointing to hear the news," said Afridi.
However former Pakistan paceman Jalal-ud-din, who recorded the first-ever hat-trick in one-day cricket history in 1982, defended the bans.
"The PCB was under pressure to take a strict decision or else the outside world would have criticized. I think players should appeal and get some relaxation," said Jalal.