In 2007-08, a young Pakistani paceman took 91 wickets in the season at 18. It was a record for Pakistani first-class record. And, in that same year, he took a 16-wicket haul in one match.

Today he played his third Test.

In 2008-09, a young Pakistani paceman took 56 wickets at 15. By the end of 2009 he had played six Tests.

Sohail Khan was the man who took the 91 wickets - in two further seasons he had taken over 60. The 56-wicket man? Mohammad Amir. The chosen one. The prodigy.

Khan played two Tests - the first of which, against Sri Lanka at Karachi in February 2009, was the last completed Test to have been played in Pakistan. He took 0 for 164 in the match, at more than six an over, on one of the flattest pitches ever produced. His next Test was against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo, in which Tatenda Taibu became his first and, for several years, only Test wicket, at a further cost of 81 runs.

That was in September 2011. He has had to wait five years for another chance. The same amount of time for which Amir has been suspended.


The Hindu Kush mountains, among Pakistan's most rugged locations, has started to produce more and more cricketers over the last few years. It is a world away from Lahore and Karachi, in weather and in life. And the players who come from there are often noticeably different.

It isn't often that a bowler talks about a training program that includes swimming across rivers, rolling rocks down mountains and chopping wood, but that was a big part of Sohail's life as a young man. He wasn't a gym-born cricketer, he was a mountain man. Later, he attended Rashid Latif's academy where he was trained in modern cricket coaching methods. There, his weightlifter's wing muscles were brought back under control, and became a young bowler of note.

"Sometimes I bowl so fast that the ball sends the stumps flying before the batsman has even had a chance to bring his bat down," he once told PakPassion. And he was a regular in fast-bowling competitions. But despite the training, the pace, and that massive pair of woodchopping shoulders, he had to wait until he was 23 to make his first-class debut.

When he did, he enjoyed it. "I took three wickets in three overs," he said. "I was bowling really fast and firing in bouncers, when one of my bouncers hit a guy on his helmet. The guy collapsed and passed out. After that I left the field and refused to continue bowling in case I hurt these guys."

He was a tearaway, a bouncer or yorker bowler, bowling with a Shoaib Ahktar run-up and a Waqar Younis mentality. He was raw and fast, but he wasn't as rare, fast or special as Mohammad Amir.


Find a good length, keep the seam in the right position, swing the ball, and ensure that there aren't many chances to score. Sohail wasn't reinventing modern bowling when he took the new ball for his Test comeback at Edgbaston.

He wasn't bowling lightning bolts or unplayable jaffas, he hit the right areas, he hit them a lot, he did it with a technically sound action, with a lot of bowling knowledge, and with an outswinger that would cause anyone problems. He showed patience, he built pressure, and the conditions helped him.

This wasn't the tearaway from the mountains, this was the professional first-class bowler, on top of his game, who had cut down on his pace after watching Jimmy Anderson's success in English conditions. So this was someone bowling within himself as an intellectual move, not just a guy, at 32, slowing down with age.

Sohail removed Alex Hales with a perfect new-ball outswinger. It couldn't have been more romantic if the ball actually kissed the outside edge. The ball to Root was almost as good, even if Root was partly to blame for the wicket himself. Sohail wasn't screaming like a loon who couldn't believe his luck, he was celebrating like a well-worn professional who had taken wickets like this in the shadows for years, and had now got a chance to do it in a Test match. He pulled much the same trick for Vince's outside edge.

It was for Bairstow's wicket, after extracting a bit of bounce out of the surface, that he showboated a bit and gave a comical head bob to show he was in control. Misbah had won the toss and bowled, Rahat Ali had one wicket, Sohail four at that point. He was in control. Amir had no wickets.


And yet, there he was at the top of his mark, looking confused. This strapping man, looking more like a Lollywood action hero than a Pakistani fast bowler. His run-up starts somewhere here, but instead of charging in, he looks down trying to remember where it should be.

You can usually tell the difference between a bowler who is completely in control of his game, and one who is going to have a lot of good and bad days. It is in their run-up. And Sohail's run-up seems to start from a different place almost every ball.

But this isn't some special trick of shortening his run-up for effect. He can start from four different places in one over. At one stage he has three markers, and he seems to ignore all three of them. Another time he moves his marker to a random area, as if it was getting in his head. And regularly, no matter where he started to run in from, he would lose his run-up as he approached the crease.

But even when he got it wrong, he somehow, against cricket logic, still got it right at the crease. It may not be perfect, or always correct, but he is a bowler, and you don't need to see his massive shoulders or huge frame to know that. He may forget his lines, but he knows bowling.


Top-class athletes don't often come back from long lay-offs and perform at the same level they were at before. Often they struggle, and disappear, like Ian Thorpe, Australia's Thorpedo. Several female tennis players have managed it, as well as a few athletes, such as Justin Gatlin and Lance Armstrong, who may have had outside assistance. Many an old boxer, most notably George Foreman, have been lured back for some lesser glory. But it is hard enough to make it when you have spent your whole life working for it, it is harder still when you have missed out on a whole tranche of your development.

Occasionally there are people like Dennis Lillee, who broke his back in 1973 but rebuilt his body and mind to become the ultimate bowler. But mostly when players lose a part of their 20s, they don't come back the same. Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback, and Mike Tyson both lost parts of their careers to prison, and returned as different beasts. So too did Muhammad Ali, despite winning two further belts after returning from his political exile. Michael Jordan was never the same scoring machine after he left for baseball.

Mohammad Amir had all the hype, the limited-overs spells, the viral wickets against Somerset, the many dropped chances off Cook, and the winning wicket at Lord's. But right now, he isn't the same bowler that he was aged 19, on the 2010 tour of England. Maybe he won't ever be. Or maybe he will be next week.

But if he can't be, we shouldn't be surprised. Five years out of the game, five years of not learning, of not conditioning his body, of not perfecting his action, of not getting through the tough days, of not developing his game, seem to have left with him the odd good ball, the odd great ball, and several other parts of game in which he is under-developed.

Sohail's five years out of Test cricket, on the other hand, have been spent perfecting his game. Doing all the things that Amir robbed himself of.


Sohail's penultimate spell involved a quest for reverse swing. And the ball did swing for him. At times he used it well, but he also looked like he was riding an imaginary horse into the crease, and even the horse was tired. It didn't look like he had another spell in him. But Misbah-ul-Haq brought him back to finish the day with the new ball.

With every passing delivery, he looked more and more like a man longing for his hotel bed over a five-wicket haul. His pace was dropping so steadily, the speed gun attendant may have thought the batteries were slowly going flat in his machine.

By the start of the last over of the day, Sohail wasn't so much limping to the crease, more running as if there was an invisible man holding him back. The ball was swinging massively out of his hand, but if you are bowling at 68 miles per hour, sometimes the ball swings through boredom. Many great Pakistani fast bowlers might have seen his speed as an affront to their trade.

Part of Sohail's lack of pace was down to his efforts to get the ball to swing, but equally he could barely run in any more. Sohail was tired. It was only Steven Finn slapping him down the ground for four that woke him up. And suddenly he was back in the mid-80s, trying to knock his head off. He didn't, because he still wasn't that quick, and instead Finn hooked him away for another four.

And yet, the pace might have gone, but the skills were still there.

He delivered the perfect inswinger to James Anderson. It looked plumb on first impact, and Sohail appealed like it was. When it was given out, he fell to his knees. He ended up in a sajda, but his gesture was that of an exhausted man falling to the ground, having bowled through his spent body to take a five-wicket haul in a Test match.

The only energy he could muster wasn't for the wicket celebration, it was for the now-regulation Pakistani celebratory push-ups as he walked off. But his woodchopper's shoulders still had enough latent power to perform a clap between each repetition.

Amir cashed in with a couple of wickets at the end of the day. But for once it wasn't about him. It was Sohail Khan's day. No matter what Sohail does, he will never be the leading man, the star, the human headline. But all those years in the cricket wilderness, working at the academy, throwing rocks in the Hindu Kush, learning an outswinger, meant that he was ready.

For Sohail, those five years might have felt like forever, but he used his exile well.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber