LAHORE - Pakistan’s World Cup hopes were dealt a major blow Monday with frontline pacer Junaid Khan has been ruled out of the World Cup because of a hamstring injury.

The 25-year-old left-armer, considered one of the country’s most promising prospects in recent years, sustained a thigh injury in training last month that forced him out of the team’s current tour of New Zealand. “Junaid appeared in a fitness test and was not found fit enough to play the World Cup,” said a Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) spokesman.

His absence means Pakistan’s attack will be led by the relatively inexperienced M Irfan, following the losses of veteran paceman Umar Gul to a knee injury and ace spinner Saeed Ajmal, who is serving a suspension for chucking. All-rounder M Hafeez, meanwhile, faces a race against time to get his action cleared. He was suspended in November last year and will participate in a reassessment test on February 6.

Junaid was included in the 15-man squad last month but he will now likely be replaced with another seam bowler Bilawal Bhatti, a newcomer to international cricket. Pakistan plays the second and final one-day against New Zealand on Tuesday before leaving for Australia where they play their first World Cup game against defending champions India in Adelaide on February 15.

Junaid had suffered a knee injury in October and was sidelined for two months. He returned to fields in the domestic Pentangular one-day Cup and performed well enough to get selected for the World Cup. Junaid said he was saddened but wished his colleagues well. “It’s heartbreak for me,” said Junaid. “I couldn’t pass the fitness test and am not able to play the World Cup. All my prayers are with the team.”

Pakistan’s bowling attack is now set to be the least experienced among major teams in the tournament, with four rookies if Bhatti is picked.