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ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2009 T20I bowling winner: Umar Gul, lord of the death

Umar Gul has the art of Twenty20 bowling all sorted

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Umar Gul became the first bowler to take a five-for in T20Is  •  Tom Shaw/Getty Images

Umar Gul became the first bowler to take a five-for in T20Is  •  Tom Shaw/Getty Images

When Twenty20 began, the expectation was that bowlers were purely there to send down deliveries for the batsmen to launch out of the ground. However, very quickly they started to learn new skills to counter the innovation coming into the strokeplay, and now there are a number of supreme Twenty20 operators. Near the top of the list is Umar Gul, who has carved out a specialist death-bowling role in the Pakistan team and played a key role in their World Twenty20 success last year.
The most productive of his spells came against New Zealand, at The Oval, when he claimed the astonishing figures of 5 for 6 from three overs to blow away the lower order and set up a six-wicket victory during Pakistan's run to claiming the title. It was a performance of immense skill in which he sent down one honed yorker after another, while also mixing up his pace to confound batsmen desperate to cut loose.
In a tactic that became a vital cog in Pakistan's success, Gul was held back from the attack until the closing overs, and would occasionally bowl his four-over spell straight through - even in 50-over matches a four-over death spell is seen to be asking a lot of a bowler. When he came on against New Zealand, Pakistan had already made early breakthroughs, but with a late charge the total could have swelled to a testing 150. Gul put paid to that.
His first wicket came courtesy a fine catch by Shahid Afridi. Gul then homed in on his pinpoint full length, targeting the stumps with a hint of late movement. Next ball Peter McGlashan tried to sweep and was leg-before and Gul ended his first over with two to his name before being pulled from the attack. When he returned, two overs later, both Nathan McCullum and James Franklin were beaten by perfect yorkers. And one ball later, Gul's fifth came when a slower ball took a leading edge from Kyle Mills to cover.
It was the control over length that was the standout feature of Gul's performance in a year where he was a leading Twenty20 performer, to follow his success at the 2007 World Twenty20 in South Africa. A marginal error either way and a yorker becomes either a full-toss or a half volley, which in Twenty20 is easy pickings. Yet Gul could find the blockhole at will, leaving the batsmen trying to avoid having their toes crushed or losing their wicket.
However, Gul's performance was followed by questions about how he obtained reverse-swing so early with Daniel Vettori raising "a couple of concerns" with the on-field umpires and match referee. It led to an angry response from Younis Khan as he defended his bowler's performance.
"For reverse-swing you need pace and a good action, and Gul has a good action," Younis said. "It is an art, it is not cheating, and Umar knows the art, especially in Twenty20s. In every single game he performs like that… All the time the umpires were checking the ball, and there are plenty of cameras, so how could we cheat?... We have good actions and we have pace. So don't disrupt a boy like Umar Gul; he has a good reputation."
Gul's skill has made him the most successful bowler in Twenty20 internationals, with 42 wickets at 11.23 and an economy rate of under 6, despite consistently bowling at the end of an innings. The 5 for 6 against New Zealand remain his career-best figures and make him a worthy recipient of the ESPNcricinfo Award for Twenty20 bowling performance of 2009.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo