When Pakistan faced off against Australia in a must-win encounter at the 2016 World Twenty20, many in the cricket world hoped the battle would provide a sequel to the Wahab Riaz-Shane Watson duel at the 2015 World Cup.
The match, however, provided for a completely different lasting memory, one that probably flashes in Wahab's head every time he blinks. Australia had solidified their position in the match batting first and scoring 164/4 in 18 overs.
Steve Smith and Shane Watson were looking for a final assault as Wahab bowled the 19th. And if the Australians thought they had scored enough runs to trouble Pakistan's fragile batting order, they took a major psychological edge when Wahab delivered the final delivery of his over. As the left-armer started his run, Smith moved so far away from the off-stump he would have required a minute to return to where the wickets were. Wahab, with all the three stumps to aim at and with Smith a mile away, instead followed the batsman who flicked his wrists to dispatch the ball to the midwicket boundary.
There was disbelief within the Pakistan camp and all those present at the Mohali stadium. ‘How could Wahab misread that?’ Immediately, the mind wondered how, yorker master, Umar Gul, would've reacted in that situation. Surely, he would have hit the stumps. How captain Shahid Afridi would have wished for the Gul of 2009 to be in that situation.
‘Boom Boom’ would have even passed a cursory glance to the dugout, wishing coach Waqar Younis, the 'king of smashing the stumps', had the ball in hand on the occasion.
But if Pakistan fans believe their death bowling woes will continue to deepen, Gul says he may yet be of service.
The 31-year-old is of the firm belief that he can turn back the clock and produce some more magic for Pakistan.
“I believe I still have 3 to 4 years of international cricket left in me, and I'll prove that,” Gul says in an exclusive interview with Dawn.
“My career is not over. Even when I was injured in 2004, many people believed I was done but I came back strongly. I don't believe what others say. I am working on my fitness. I believe in my energy and will definitely make my way back.”
Gul had a fruitful first-class season with Habib Bank Limited before being dropped after Pakistan's ODI series defeat in Bangladesh in 2015. He made a comeback against New Zealand at the start of 2016 but his below par T20 outings were not enough to earn him a spot in the World T20 line up. Fitness and form have been a major concern for Gul since his dazzling performances for Pakistan at the World T20.
Despite putting in his best performances some years ago, Gul remains on the second spot in most T20 wickets list and the fast bowler puts it down to not being granted an extended run after coming back from injuries.
“I had an injury and have recovered completely now. It definitely hurts because I was making a comeback after 7-8 months after my latest injury and the selection committee kicked me out just after a couple of matches.
“It takes time to get into rhythm. How can you expect a player to get 10 wickets or perform right away after coming back from injury? They must give each player a fair chance. You cannot judge a player after just one match, give them a series at least.”
“I was the only bowler who had bowled yorkers under dewy conditions in the Pakistan Super League. Players must be given a fair chance before the selectors make a judgement.”
According to Gul, Pakistan's current fast bowling attack was ‘one dimensional’ and therein lay his opportunity. But normally soft-spoken quick says the responsibility of the unearthing fast bowling talent should have been taken by Waqar Younis and the 'Burewala Express' had some serious questions to answer.
“I believe our head coach must answer some tough questions because he was a fast bowler himself. That's his responsibility. Why couldn't he produce better fast bowlers after two years in charge? He must be held responsible and asked why are we facing such a problem. Fast bowlers have always helped Pakistan win in the past.”
Gul, like the countless others before him, urges the cricket authorities in the country to change things from the ground up if they are really serious about lifting Pakistan from the hole.
“I think we need to focus more on the grassroots level. How can we expect to produce quality players without focusing on the basics? We must utilise the academies we had established to groom players. I took part in the domestic season recently and, sadly, I did not witness a single quality player.”
While Pakistan remains in a perpetual state of transition, though, Gul feels he can contribute to the revival and is ‘strong mentally’ to overcome any hurdles.
“Well, I have seen so many ups and downs in my career, been through tough times and faced major injuries. But I always came back strongly.”