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ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2010 ODI bowling winner: The irresistible Umar Gul

After losing the Tests and being hit by the spot-fixing scandal, Pakistan's summer of 2010 was turning out to be their bleakest. Till a spell of bowling brought a flicker of light

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Umar Gul jumps for joy after bowling Tim Bresnan, England v Pakistan, 3rd ODI, The Oval, September 17 2010

Umar Gul defended a middling total of 241 with career-best figures  •  Getty Images

When the force is with Umar Gul, there are few more irresistible bowlers in world cricket. At The Oval in September 2010, in the aftermath of the spot-fixing scandal that had led to the suspensions of his fellow seamers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, and with Pakistan 2-0 down in a five-match one-day series and facing another thumping defeat beneath the floodlights, he transformed a meandering contest with an extraordinary demolition of England's batting line-up.
Gul had not been at his best in 2010. He missed the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean - a grievous blow to the defending champions, for whom he had claimed 13 wickets at 12.15 in their 2009 triumph - and while he hit some form in the Test series against England, a hamstring problem had sidelined him for the final two matches. But with his team on their knees and desperate for an injection of inspiration, he found his mojo at the most opportune moment imaginable.
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly for England. They were chasing an insubstantial 242, and had overcome an early jitter to reach 201 for 5 with 12 full overs remaining. Eoin Morgan was at the crease, the asking rate was barely three an over, and the tricky twilight hour had already been negotiated, so the Oval floodlights were now in full beam. The series was in the bag, but Gul was about to snatch the satchel and sprint off down the street with it.
The collapse began innocuously enough. With two wickets to his name already, Gul returned to the attack for his eighth over, and struck with his first ball as Morgan carelessly wafted a leg-stump delivery straight to deep square leg. As England's champion departed for 61, Gul needed no further invitation to run amok. Two runless deliveries later, Tim Bresnan had no answer to a fearsome delivery that pitched and fizzed through a bamboozled gate, and suddenly the game was alive.
When Gul gets it going, it's as if the ball is on a string. It zips out of his fingers like an 85mph yo-yo, and snaps off the surface with an apparent disregard for physics. Stuart Broad had no answer for such wiles, and his stumps were uprooted by a late swerving Yorker. With the very last ball of Gul's ten-over allocation, England's final hope was extinguished as Graeme Swann was suckered by a rare half-volley that he felt compelled to poke straight to cover.
From 201 for 5 to 211 for 9, and ultimately 218 all out, England's collapse was as sudden and unstoppable as anything they produced back in the days of Wasim and Waqar, and the latter was a very contented coach when he described Gul's performance as the spell that his team had needed. Once again they had found a ray of light at the precise moment when their fortunes had seemed to be at their lowest. Even at 2-1 up, it would take every ounce of England's mental strength to fight their way back into the series, and ultimately to prevail.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo