While others fade away, here's to Umar Gul
The nation is aware that swinging fortunes Pakistan’s way is very much in Gul’s hands.
The wicked world of Pakistan cricket ensures its batsmen are not given enough room, there are thorns sticking out of the popping crease for the bowlers and the fielders are positioned at short-leg with no protective gear.
Knives, axes and effigies are readily available for every failed performance and new warnings, slogans and calls for swift omission become louder after every dismissal, slaughtering or a drop.
Shahid Afridi, Misbahul Haq, Younus Khan, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Akhtar. The list is as long as the numbers Pakistan have tried. Performance, fitness, attitude, the reasons exist aplenty for the stakeholders – which happens to be the whole nation – to cast their votes on the next victim.
Not in that list, though, is Pakistan’s man on a mission, the overworked and under-rewarded Umar Gul, galloping endlessly from the shadows of faster, more vocal individuals who’ve tasted quicker rise to stardom.
Gul’s strike-rate is no Waqar Younis. His tally is far from Wasim Akram’s. His star value is dwarfed by Mohammad Amir’s. And he doesn’t speak half as well as Shoaib Akhtar.
Still, Gul has defied mischief off the field, concentrating, instead, on uprooting the stumps and not Pakistan’s spirits. His dedication to the job on hand, levels of conscientiousness to the cause and the urge to come raring back after a poor day has been vouched for by his own men.
Pakistan’s former trainer David Dwyer termed him the fittest player in the squad, one who took out his disappointment by training overtime, putting in the extra effort that produces the kind of days witnessed at The Oval against New Zealand.
Gul’s presence in the playing-eleven has often been overshadowed by the more skilful and the more vocal. Limelight has, on various occasions, been snatched by his partners while he gently goes about his efforts.
He often fails against the tougher oppositions, but comes raging back, angry at himself, angrier at the opposition. But many Pakistan fast-bowlers have come and faltered. Some threatened the record books, others questioned the IQ level of the selectors. One was labelled the “real workhorse” of the team, with rewards as scarce as a hailstorm in Lahore. Another, with an undying love for hair colour, is now restricted to Karachi’s colours.
Imran Khan won’t let Gul out of the team if things were in his hands. And neither would Younis. Intikhab Alam has grown fond of the right-hander and as he keeps delivering a yorker after yorker, Pakistan sit with the hope of a future, immediate and distant, that sounds warning bells for the opposition.
He keeps giving away runs while aiming to perfect the art. His form has varied over the last two years, at times labelling him a limited-overs specialist. But his speed has increased over the years. The tune he plays with the ball swinging around has become sweeter, even raising doubts over its legality.
And as the team swept away the demons of 2003 and 2007 with the Kandy storm and progressed to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, the nation is aware that swinging fortunes Pakistan’s way are very much in Gul’s hands.