Umar Gul winning fitness race
Umar Gul, who suffered a stiff hamstring during the second Test at Edgbaston, has recovered completely from the injury and is likely to be available for selection for the final Test of the England series, which begins on Thursday at Lord's.
"We can't say anything for certain but we are hopeful," Salman Butt, the Pakistan captain said. It was feared that Gul would take no further part in the Test series when he first picked up the injury but Gul, who is Pakistan's most experience fast bowler, has been working hard with Dale Nyler, the team physio, and trainer David Dwyer, to bounce back.
While his team-mates were scripting Pakistan's remarkable victory in the third Test, Gul was on the sidelines where he bowled 'no-effort' balls which involved him charging in from a full run-up and going through the remainder of his action before finishing the sequence without delivering the ball. The exercise was essential to determine if the injury was healing fast.
"So far his recovery has gone as desired," Dwyer said. But both him and Nyler will have a final look on Wednesday morning before giving their final assessment on Gul's fitness to the team management which will sit in the evening to pick the playing eleven.
For the last two days Gul has progressed to bowling flat out without any cause for concern. At the indoor training centre at Lord's he bowled marathon spells of nearly 90 minutes and was happily sharing tips with Wahab Riaz, the man who replaced him in the previous Test.
Gul's recovery is good news for Pakistan, who are spoilt with riches in the bowling department. At The Oval last week, Riaz, the left-handed quick, made a memorable debut by claiming 5 for 63 on the first day to help set up Pakistan's four-wicket victory. Riaz earned further points on the second morning when he offered stubborn resistance with the bat. His 27 logged over a two hours, and he stitched a 34-run partnership with Mohammad Yousuf for the third wicket to rob England of the chance of putting pressure on the Pakistan middle-order.
Gul won't be worried about the competition. At Trent Bridge he top scored with 65 in addition to a match haul of 4 for 102. At Edgbaston he was forced off the field after bowling nine wicketless overs in the first innings but batted with a runner to bolster Pakistan's lead with a 27-run stand with Mohammad Asif for the last wicket.
Gul will have fond memories of playing at Lord's, after performing well there against Australia earlier in the year. He was on the verge of a hat-trick during Australia's second innings and finished the match with five wickets. Waqar Younis, Pakistan's coach, was positive about Gul but remained non-committal about his availability for the final Test: "We will have to see tomorrow and then decide."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo