The Lowdown - Umar Gul July 12, 2006

Back in the spotlight



Long road back: It has taken a long time, but Umar Gul is fit and firing again © AFP
Shoaib Akhtar won't be around until the final Test at the earliest and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan will miss the whole tour. Are Pakistan's bowling resources looking thin? Not nearly as thin as England's did during their one-day thrashing against Sri Lanka. Pakistan have an endless stream of quality pace bowlers and while they would obviously prefer their king-pins to be around there is plenty left in reserve.

Mohammad Asif swings it late, as does Mohammad Sami although with less control. Then there is Umar Gul who, following a burst of 5 for 31 against India at Lahore, appeared set for a sparkling career. But then he was struck by the fast bowler's curse; a back injury. His appearance at Lahore was his last Test for nearly two years until his comeback in April against Sri Lanka. At one stage his career was on the line and it says much for Gul's character that he is now back vying for a berth in a strong Pakistani pace attack.

His performance at Lahore showed what makes Gul a fairly unique bowling in the Pakistan ranks. Unlike Shoaib - and before him Wasim and Waqar - there were no yorkers and it was conventional seam and bounce that brought the outside edges. He is almost an English-style seamer, which is why this tour could be the making of him.

Gul was one of the players to benefit from Pakistan's poor showing at the 2003 World Cup. When the squad underwent a drastic refit at the start of the following season, Gul was drafted in as a raw and promising paceman. "It was bizarre. I couldn't believe I was playing for Pakistan so soon," he said of his debut series in Sharjah.

He continued to make all the right moves as he tried to cement a permanent place in the team until he was diagnosed with three stress fractures of the back, something which took Gul by surprise. "I didn't feel any problem during the match and never had anything serious before." He flew to South Africa for specialist treatment and returned with a slightly modified action, his previously slight body packing a touch more muscle and wise to the ways of maintaining it.

Pakistan's management, having nursed him through a number of A team and practice matches, are confident that he is bowling better than before. He has shown what he can do in the past; now is the time for the new-look Gul to stand up.



Umar Gul's best moment to date has come against India at Lahore © Getty Images

Timeline

November 2001
First-class debut against Agriculture Development Bank of Pakistan and takes 5 for 46 in first innings

January 2002
Part of the Pakistan Under-19 squad at the World Cup in New Zealand

April 2003
ODI debut against the Zimbabwe in Sharjah and takes 2 for 25

August 2003
Makes Test debut against Bangladesh at Karachi, taking 2-91 from 20 overs in the first innings

September 2003
Takes 5 for 17 in one-day international against Bangladesh at Lahore

April 2004
Rips through India with 5 for 31 at Lahore but is then forced out of the game through injury

February 2006
Makes one-day comeback after a prolonged and the following month returns to the Test team

April 2006
Takes nine wickets during the EurAsia one-day tournament in Abu Dhabi to prove his fitness for the tour of England

Current form
Took 2 for 92 in Pakistan's warm-up match against England A at Canterbury, removing Ian Bell and Jamie Dalrymple and also picked up four wickets against Leicestershire.

What he says
"You dream of being really quick but ultimately you realise that whatever is natural to you should be the best option. Akram is an idol and a mentor but I relate most with McGrath. He is relentless and has complete control which is so inspiring. I watch him on TV and video to try and learn."

What they say - Rahul Dravid following Gul's spell at Lahore
I admit [Umar] Gul was a surprise package, an inspired selection. Hats off to the young kid. He did well to put the ball in the right areas. He broke the back of our batting and was deservedly the Man of the Match.

What you may not know
Like many young cricketers in Pakistan, Gul began by playing tape ball ball (tennis ball covered wholly in coloured electrical tape) cricket in gallis (alleys) and on roads. Until the age of 16, he hadn't played with a proper cricket ball.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo and Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant