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What Umar Gul's absence means for Pakistan

Published May 18, 2013 07:45pm
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. -Photo by AFP
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. -Photo by AFP

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 Dawn.com.

“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.