KARACHI: Senior Pakistan fast bowler Umar Gul, who underwent knee surgery in Australia last May, announced on Thursday he was ready to return to competitive cricket after a lapse of more than six months.
The 29-year-old right-arm bowler was sent to Melbourne where Dr David Young, a renowned orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in sports injuries, performed an arthroscopy on the right knee after the cricketer limped out of the one-day series during the South Africa tour.
Consequently, Umar was ruled out of the ICC Champions Trophy in England and Wales and the subsequent tours of the West Indies and Zimbabwe.
In his enforced absence, Pakistan failed to progress beyond the preliminary round of the Champions Trophy where they lost all three games before winning both the Twenty20 and ODI series in the West Indies.
But the national side had a mixed trip to Zimbabwe. Despite winning the Twenty20 and one-day series, Pakistan suffered a shock 24-run defeat in the second Test in Harare which enabled lowly-rated Zimbabweans share the two-match rubber.
Since returning from Australia, Umar — the leading bowler in all Twenty20 Internationals with 74 wickets in 52 matches — had spent the best part of last seven weeks at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore.
Under the guidance of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)’s team of Dr Sohail Saleem and trainers Yasir and Ashraf, Umar had been undergoing rehabilitation programme to regain complete fitness.
“Thank God, everything appears to be settling down. The knee is fine with no signs of ill-effects from the surgery I had a few months ago. Over the past 15 days, I have started bowling in the nets as well,” Umar revealed while talking to Dawn.
“I’m pretty optimistic of getting back the rhythm [of old days] as I feel fine at the moment. It is just that there is no competition at present to find out the actual status of [my] fitness.”
Pakistan are due to play ‘host’ to South Africa in the United Arab Emirates from Oct 14 in two Tests, which will be followed by five One-day Internationals and two Twenty20 fixtures.
It is unlikely that the national selectors would risk Umar, currently Pakistan’s leading paceman with 163 wickets in 47 Tests and 161 in 116 one-dayers, considering for the forthcoming matches.
And with the domestic first-class season not slated to begin after Eid-ul-Azha in the third week of October, Umar won’t have the chance of proving his match fitness to put himself in contention for the South Africa.
“Yeah, I am yearning to play some matches to test myself. Although I have trained [during the rehabilitation phase] and then bowling [in the nets], one can’t aspire to judge both the level of fitness and form if there is no competitive sort of matches,” Umar, who made his Test debut when Bangladesh toured Pakistan in 2003, said.
“I’m obviously not worried about the number of matches I missed because of the surgery. But it was quite difficult to sit out and watch team-mates playing without me.
“Fortunately, the injury this time was not as serious as the one I suffered in 2004 [after helping Pakistan win the Lahore Test against India] when three stress fractures of the back sidelined me from the game for more than a year. At that stage I feared my career was over.”
Umar, who twice returned figures of five wickets for six runs in Twenty20 Internationals, against New Zealand at The Oval during Pakistan’s triumphant World T20 campaign in 2009 and then against South Africa at Centurion last March, said that the forthcoming series against the would be competitive despite South Africa’s top ranking in Test cricket.
“It would be a great Test series because Pakistan have the potential to compete against them. We may have lost against them earlier this year but our side can win because the conditions will suit us more than we encountered in South Africa,” Umar commented. “I would love to play against them, but it all depends how it all goes for me in the coming weeks.”