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What Umar Gul's absence means for Pakistan

There was a moment on Friday during Pakistan’s opening One-Day International (ODI) against Scotland when debutant Ehsan Adil, after being pulled ferociously over square-leg for a four in his second over, looked to mid-off seeking assurance and solace from his teammate usually positioned there.

He did get words of encouragement from midwicket by the captain and the usual bellowing from Kamran Akmal but what Adil was looking for was not stationed at midoff but undergoing rehabilitation in Pakistan after a knee surgery – Umar Gul.

Gul's dedication to the job on hand and the urge to come roaring back after a poor day has been vouched for by his own men.

They say form is temporary but class is permanent. But what of the experience? An out-of-form batsman or bowler will be found wanting in the department he specialises in but will try and make up for it with advice, with guidance and with useful input at crucial junctures.

Standing mid-pitch, dejected, Adil sought precisely that. Frailty – of the mind and body – and the lack of experience can force one to try too many things, especially when trying to impress, pressing for a permanent spot in the playing-XI and when the opposition is undermined. Adil has played just one first-class season and was the second-highest leading wicket-taker in the President’s Trophy. Luckily for him, he partnered Gul when the latter was off-duty for Pakistan, including the final.

Gul’s absence due to the knee surgery was a big blow for Pakistan given his love for major tournaments, English conditions and, lately, digging his team out of trouble with the bat. Gul has played just six ODIs in England but the 14 wickets is testament to his ability and love for friendly conditions. There was also a small matter of a five-wicket haul against New Zealand in the 2009 World Twenty20.

Blessed is the team right now given the form Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan are in but with Adil, Wahab Riaz and Asad Ali to follow, the experience as a unit is lacking. Misbah ul Haq did play down this fact, resting his faith in the youngsters – in experience – to come good but acknowledged that Gul’s presence would have made a lot of difference in the middle.

“Experience is something that you just can’t buy,” Misbah told

“Junaid and Irfan are totally capable of creating havoc – and we’ve seen that against South Africa and India – but there are times when you need an experienced head to oversee proceedings and guide these young bowlers. That’s where Gul will be missed. Myself, Hafeez and other senior players are capable of giving advice but someone with Gul’s experience and record would’ve proved useful.”

Gul’s strike-rate is no Waqar Younis’. His tally is far from Wasim Akram’s. His star value was dwarfed by Mohammad Amir. And he doesn’t speak half as well as Shoaib Akhtar. Gul, though, has defied mischief off the field. His dedication to the job on hand and the urge to come roaring back after a poor day has been vouched for by his own men. Pakistan’s former trainer David Dwyer termed him the fittest player in the squad. Gul would take out his disappointment by training overtime, Dwyer had said, putting in the extra effort that produces the kind of days witnessed at The Oval against New Zealand.

Gul’s form has always been patchy and his wickets column does not always shine bright but it is his dedication to the job at hand while taking responsibility that has often been overlooked. Akram had retired by the time Gul made his debut. Waqar was sidelined. Gul played second fiddle to Akhtar, Mohammad Sami and Abdul Razzaq, learning in the middle while perfecting his trade. He regrets not being able to play alongside the best for a long time but acknowledged that experience was a good teacher.

“I’ve been playing international cricket for over 10 years and the experience has taught me a lot,” said Gul. “Fast-bowling depends on rhythm, fitness and the likes. You need guidance at times, when things aren’t going your way. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of that due to various reasons but during the off-season, whenever I get time, I try and seek advice from Wasim and Waqar to see where I’m going wrong. You need someone with more experience. There is no other way round it.”

Gul did benefit from Waqar’s stint as national coach from 2010 to 2011 where his wickets tally rose from 44 to 65, aptly illustrating the need for a go-to guy when fine-tuning was all that was needed. His career has often been overshadowed by the more skilful and the more vocal that played alongside him. But many have come, performed and then faltered. Some threatened the record books, others questioned the IQ level of the selectors. His action has become somewhat funny and he did not swing the ball as he used to. But he survived.

Perhaps Gul needed this break. Travelling all year round has taken a toll on the fast-bowler. He misses home, his family and the times when he could roam about freely with his friends. Entertainment is limited to restaurants and his iPhone – he hates sitting in his hotel room. Maybe the physical and mental rest will help him come back an improved bowler. It will also give the team a chance to test backup.

But Gul is like the warmth of a jumper in the umpire’s hands – you may not need it for the entire duration but you feel safe that it is only steps away when you do. With chilly conditions greeting Pakistan in Scotland, the warmth that Gul could have provided to the youngsters there and in the Champions Trophy could have proved handy.

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Comments (14) Closed

athar khan
May 18, 2013 08:16pm

Umar Gul is useless & very expesive bowler. In future he should not be part of the team. Give a chance to young bowlers & they have proved they are good enough.

Yasir Mansoor
May 18, 2013 09:13pm

His Absence will provide room for new fast bowlers thats all his absence means!

May 19, 2013 02:07am

His absence means someone else will get thrashed for runs instead of him. He is an expensive bowler and frankly i think has seen his peak. He has nothing left to offer.its sad to see our teams pathetic bowling situation as there was a time when bowlers like him would not even dream of playing for Pakistan. other than that I can say with confidence that he is well mannered and a hard working individual.

Bilal Hassan Syed
May 19, 2013 07:51am

It means nothing; might be good for pakistan!!!

May 19, 2013 08:44am

Emotional article, far from reality, Umer Gull has been a very expensive bowler, if he is hit in his first few overs, he looses his length and starts pitching the ball short and gets hit all over the ground. I have seen this repeatedly over the years. His good performances are once in a blue moon. He has not improved at all and will not in future. Yes he is fit and a good man but we need to win matches.

May 19, 2013 09:10am

Gul is not only a good seam bowler but by his very presence on the field he exudes power, strength and confidence. It is unfortunate both for him and Pakistan that he won't be a part of the Pakistan team. His absence, however, gives a chance to the younger ones to test their talent. All the best to Gul under the blade and Allah willing fast recovery.

May 19, 2013 11:36am

The author conveniently trying put words in our mouth by mentioning "what Adil was looking for was not stationed at midoff but undergoing rehabilitation in Pakistan after a knee surgery

Faisal Akbar
May 19, 2013 04:48pm

Umar Gul is hardworking and dedicated player. He plays for his country and takes pride unlike other members of the team past and present. This article provides a testament to that he as achieved. All players have their off days but despite this he has been there for Pakistan when they most needed him.

May 19, 2013 08:41pm

I wish Gul well and speedy recovery but his absence will give us an excuse to lose with respect. This game will be terrible as Pakistan is a its low right now and I will not be shocked if we break previous low records as in South Africa recently. Lowest score Most expensive bowling etc etc. Azhar Ali and Younis Khan should have been included in the team.

Green Oval
May 19, 2013 08:43pm

Means blessing in disguise. Gul is highly over rated and has become an automatic selection based on expectations which he rarely delivered.

May 19, 2013 09:31pm

mean nothing! He is incomplete all-rounder, he lacks skills, he is failed to stop runs,he never take crucial wickets or keep his opponent under pressure,he is bad in fielding and don't even know how to hold a bat,when only few runs are required to win in last over.

May 20, 2013 10:36am

Since then, as Mohammad Asif and Shoaib Akhtar have floundered, Gul has become Pakistan's spearhead and one of the best fast bowlers in the world. He is smart enough and good enough to succeed in all three formats and 2009 proved it: he put together a patch of wicket-taking in ODIs, on dead pitches in Tests (including a career-best six-wicket haul against Sri Lanka) and established himself as the world's best Twenty20 bowler, coming on after the initial overs and firing in yorkers on demand. Cricinfo

May 20, 2013 11:26am

Our opposition(s) will certainly miss Umar Gul.

May 21, 2013 11:55am

@Afridi: I think in this comment you are referring to Afridi :)