Australia v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Sydney, 1st day January 3, 2010

An unexpected and memorable comeback

For a good hour on a gloomy, memorable day, Mohammad Sami suddenly was again what he promised long, long ago: Pakistan fast bowling's next big thing

Some things in life are difficult to explain. Others, like Mohammad Sami, are inexplicable. Many people have had a go but few have cracked it. He's had everything; pace, an athletic build, good partners and mentors. He's had nothing; sense, luck, much swing, direction, a ticker.

Everyone thought he was finally finished in 2007, when he decided the ICL and Twenty20 was his calling. Thirty-three Tests, not too many wickets for far too many runs, an average over fifty is not so much a career unfulfilled as a career prolonged.

Stranger decisions have been made by the PCB but the one to call Sami back for this tour is at least a nominee. Younger, fresher bowlers have appeared like Mohammad Aamer. Mohammad Talha has sparkled domestically and even Sohail Khan was playing a Test earlier this year. And he likely wouldn't have played here had Aamer been fit. But he hasn't done badly in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy and he led Karachi to the title, bowling a furious spell in the final. That very evening he flew to Australia.

Stranger things have happened in Pakistan cricket but Sami returning to skittle out Australia's top order, inches from a hat-trick, which would've been let us never forget, his third in international cricket? Well, Imran Farhat did carry his bat for an unbeaten hundred just recently. And Sami himself helped skittle out a stronger Australian top order at Perth in 2004-05.

At a private function in Melbourne, he seemed surprised more than anything. The ICL wasn't a smart move and he has had a tough two years because of it. He has none of the characteristics you would associate with a bowler of his pace. He is shy and meek and can seem distant. For his build he has a surprisingly raspy voice. He isn't quite an accidental fast bowler but he was a wicketkeeper at school level.

The persistence has to be commended. He came in from the start with all the force of a man who knows nothing about his future but knows that it is good to get away from the past. Briefly, as Umar Akmal dropped Phillip Hughes off his very first ball that past came flooding back; few modern bowlers have had the kind of jinx with dropped catches that Sami has.

But he scampered in nevertheless and it was good to see that the pace hadn't dropped. Aamer was clocking 150kmph in Melbourne; Sami has done it for years and he did so effortlessly here. Such are Pakistan's riches and their wastes. The top three were hurried out, Shane Watson done in by the ball of the day. He hit fuller lengths and found swing which has not often been there for him. Pleasingly the seam held well and Pakistan were on their way to a most dominant day.

The rest of it reminded one and all of his earliest - and best - days in cricket. He was an athletic, involved presence in the field and his celebration of the Ricky Ponting wicket was genuinely heartening, for his critics and fans alike. Too much has gone before to hope that this is any kind of rebirth or a second - third or fourth - coming. There have been enough fade-aways after good periods to go down that path again.

But for a good hour on a gloomy, memorable day, he suddenly was again what he promised long, long ago: Pakistan fast bowling's next big thing. And nine years down the line from his debut that just can't be explained.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo