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'Slave to rhythm' Gul tunes in to top form

Umar Gul is the most unassuming bowling spearhead Pakistan have had for years, possibly ever, so much so that it is easy to not think of him as the leader of the attack at all

Umar Gul trapped Regis Chakabva lbw, Pakistan v Zimbabwe, World Cup, Pallekele, March 14, 2011

Armed with the new ball, Umar Gul kept it short of a length and cut it both ways to trouble Zimbabwe  •  Associated Press

Given the disasters of 2003 and 2007, simply making it to the business end of the World Cup ought to be seen as an achievement; more so with the knowledge that a Pakistan team of any era and time would have been as capable of not qualifying from this group as of getting through. A comfortable win over a weak Zimbabwe side has at least that much to recommend it.
That it was built on a spell from Umar Gul makes it all the more pleasing. Gul is the most unassuming bowling spearhead Pakistan have had for years, possibly ever, so much so that it is easy to not think of him as the leader of the attack at all. He doesn't even always open the bowling, a curious position for a fast-bowling spearhead to be in, as Mitchell Johnson knows. He didn't even come to the press conference after the game, as players of the match are meant to. Yet his role in how far Pakistan goes now will be vital.
The signs from the last two games are healthy. Gul is, as Waqar Younis has noted in the past, a slave to rhythm. If his run-up is right and his action in sync, he brings such force to his bowling that he becomes difficult to get away and keep out. Very visibly when the going is good you can see the momentum build up in his run-up, so that he fully hurls into his action.
The pace, as it was today and against New Zealand last week, is then consistently high, a real whiz to it, touching the early 90s (mph) and settled in the late 80s. As a batsman, getting on the front foot is rarely a smart option, and the ball seems to hit bat especially hard.
There has been wholeness about him over these two games. Today he cut the new ball this way and that, from just back of a length. The other day against New Zealand he chose to go fuller and swung it in and out. And whenever he has gone short he has cramped batsmen and made them uneasy. He bowled superbly in the batting Powerplay against New Zealand and was exemplary as first change. He was excellent with the new ball today.
Waqar said later it was an "extraordinary" spell which perhaps overdid it, but he was right in that he deserved more than just three wickets. Over the two games in Pallekele, he has deserved more than the six wickets he has taken and after an iffy evening out against Sri Lanka, Pakistan could not want him in any better shape.
"When we talk about Umar Gul, there are a couple of things," Waqar said. "Whenever he is hurt, he comes back a real good bowler. We have seen it in the past as well, not just here. Whenever people start talking about his rhythm or talk about dropping him, he bounces back. He's that kind of character. Against Sri Lanka, he bowled well at times and poorly at times and that hurt him. He worked tremendously hard in the nets since then and especially when he bowled out in the middle, mornings or afternoons of matches, that makes a big difference."
There is much more still to be done before Pakistan can call this a successful tournament, for starters a game against Australia with greater consequences than are at first apparent. But Pakistan looked more with it throughout this game than they have done for vast stretches of the last two.
Each catch Kamran Akmal holds on to is a little victory in itself and he was tidy enough. If Ahmed Shehzad's recklessness isn't showing signs of disappearing, then the good, common sense of Asad Shafiq's World Cup debut made up for it. Wahab Riaz had a decent day and his burden is likely to increase. And Waqar doesn't seem to be a man to get carried away either with a good win or, as we saw last week, a big, bad loss.
"It is pleasing that we have qualified, but the kind of team we had, it was expected we would get to the quarter-finals," he said. "To say that we have achieved a lot here because we didn't qualify the last two times would be wrong, because only once you get to the quarter-finals does the real game start, the game of nerves, the pressure game."

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo