Umar Gul: The master of accuracy
After the exit Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Umar Gul (above) has been the most effective among Pakistan’s fast bowlers over a long period © Getty Images
Umar Gul, born April 14, 1984, is one of Pakistan’s finest speedsters. The Peshawar-born bowler is not tearaway like a few of his fellow teammates, but he makes up for the lack of pace with his accuracy — the best in this regard after the departure of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. There were others of his breed who came and fell off the wayside, but Gul remained firm in his commitment and performances. Karthik Parimal looks back at the career so far of this efficient paceman.
Churning out one genuine fast bowler after the other has seldom been an issue for Pakistan. After Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis’s dominance, many adept seamers have made their presence during the last decade. However, very few have lasted for a substantial length of time as Umar Gul has.
After Pakistan’s disappointing run in the 2003 World Cup, the head honchos decided to infuse young blood gradually, with the process commencing from the next series itself. In the April of that year, a month after exit from the high-profile event, a quadrangular series between Kenya, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Pakistan was arranged in the desert city of Sharjah. It was here that Gul made a mark, steaming in and bowling accurately on the flat decks under testing conditions. Nevertheless, he had little to show for in the wickets column. It was in the longer formats that his efforts were first noticed. In August 2003, against Bangladesh, he finished with 15 wickets at an average of 25 in the three-match series at home.
Maiden five-wicket haul — against arch rivals
Whenever India and Pakistan square off against each other, the bar the players from both sides set is automatically heightened. For Gul, it provided an amazing opportunity to carve a niche for himself as Pakistan were facing India minus Waqar and Akram in April of 2004. The visitors dominated the first Test at Multan, winning by a mammoth margin of an innings and 52 runs. Gul was dropped in favour of pacer Shabbir Ahmed then. In the second game at Lahore, the latter made way for the former owing to a shin injury. It was here that Gul ripped through a formidable Indian line-up, claiming five wickets for just 31 runs. This opening day spell dashed India’s hopes of a 2-0 lead, as the home side fought back with a nine-wicket victory.
Gul was the standout in that game. Rahul Dravid rightly noted, during the press conference after the game, “I admit Gul was a surprise package, an inspired selection. Hats off to the young kid! He did well to put the ball in the right areas. He broke the back of our batting and was deservedly the Man of the Match.”
For the third Test of that intriguing series, one expected Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq to worry about choosing between Gul and Shabbir. However, he was faced with an even bigger conundrum. Shabbir hadn’t recovered from his shin pain yet, whereas the destroyer-in-chief of the Lahore Test, Gul, was ruled out owing to stress fractures in his back. Little did he expect that the injury would put him out of action, in any kind of cricket, for over a year.
He flew to South Africa to consult doctors about his process of recovery and returned fitter and sharper to the domestic arena by April 2005.
The purple patch
Twenty-two months after the injury, he returned to the international fold. Although there was no glimpse of his usual effectiveness during the initial stages, he recovered well to strike it rich. On the 2006 tour of England, he finished as the highest wicket-taker for Pakistan, way ahead of his fellow teammates.
The West Indies visited a few months later and Gul dished out a similar performance, claiming 16 wickets in three Tests at an average of 26. As few bowlers headed into twilight and few others fell off the wayside, Gul kept growing in confidence and became his side’s mainstay.
Best T20 bowler?
Without doubt, Gul has thrived in all three formats of the game for Pakistan, but statistics show his prowess in the shortest version, for he is currently the leading wicket-taker with 74 wickets in 52 T20 games. Also, he is the only bowler apart from Sri Lanka’s Ajantha Mendis to register two five-wicket hauls in the format. It must be noted that on both occasions, he finished with figures of 5 for 6.
The first one was against New Zealand at The Oval during the 2009 ICC World T20 and, at the time, was the best ever performance in T20s. The Kiwis were shot out for 99, conceding defeat by six wickets.
More recently, the same performance was replicated against South Africa at Centurion on March 3, 2013. Chasing 196 to win, the home side were cruising, having scored 50 runs within the first four overs. Gul was then introduced into the attack and he responded with three wickets in five balls. His next over too produced a scalp. He registered 5 for 6, only this time his economy rate was 2.57; 0.57 higher than the last time. South Africa were bundled out for 100.
Is the best yet to come?
With age on his side (he turns 29 today), Gul may still have his best years ahead of him. He’s already spearheaded the Pakistan attack and has remained unruffled by the failure of his fellow fast bowlers. The experience he’s gained thus far — 47 Tests, 116 One-Day Internationals and 52 T20s — can be instrumental in him playing a crucial role in shaping Pakistan’s future. If injuries are kept at bay, he can, arguably, be hailed as Pakistan’s finest product since the last one decade.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)