On the fourth evening of the Dubai Test, Zulfiqar Babar was toiling hard, over after over the left-armer was inching towards a wicket but lady luck continued to elude him. England were proving to be an obstinate opponent with Joe Root and Ian Bell defying the hosts’ victory bid.
Just about that time Abdur Rehman finished his evening prayers and answered the phone call.
As we began the interview, Babar — bowling from over-the-wicket — got one ball to jump sharply from the rough, the ball grazed Bell’s gloves on its way to Younus Khan at first slip. Umpire Bruce Oxenford turned down the appeal, an imploring Sarfraz Ahmed asked his captain Misbahul Haq to refer the decision to the third umpire, and he obliged.
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Somewhere in his Sialkot hometown a day before his department Habib Bank’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy match against FATA, Rehman was glued to the action as we conversed about the state of the wearing fourth day Dubai wicket.
“I think this is going to be given out” Rehman applauded the captain’s call for a review the brief moment of joy overcoming his grief of missing out on the prospect of repeating his 2012 heroics against the Englishmen.
“I am licking my lips looking at the turn this pitch is taking, I so wish I was there with the ball in my hands, this is so my kind of a track. Just look at the bounce that Bell ball took.”
Babar, Rehman’s rival for the left-arm spinner’s slot, rather the man who replaced him in the Test eleven — leaving Rehman stranded on 99 Test wickets — was chastised by the critics for his lack of returns in Abu Dhabi and the first innings in Dubai, Rehman feels the veteran wasn’t bowling at the right pace.
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“In the UAE you really need to bowl quicker due to the slow nature of the wickets. You have to fizz the ball through, for a left-armer the arm ball is a big weapon, the armer can get you lbws especially with the DRS.”
It was indeed Rehman’s armer that wreaked havoc three years ago — 14 bowleds and lbws out of 19 series wickets. While Saeed Ajmal toyed with the batsmen through his doosra and off-spinner, Rehman bowled an impeccable line, unerringly probing away at the stumps.
The three Test series was easily Rehman’s best ever — 19 wickets at 16.73 with two five-fors a testament of his success.
The perennial understudy to Ajmal rose above the expectations of all perhaps his own self in the Abu Dhabi Test. England were set a paltry 145 to win and level the series but they ran into Rehman bowling stuff that he himself struggled to trust.
“That performance is a blessing of the Almighty. Some of the deliveries that I bowled were beyond my own comprehension too, like I am not a big spinner of the ball but the balls that bowled Stuart Broad and Eoin Morgan through the gate left me bewildered. It was amazing somewhat an inexplicable experience; I can’t explain what the feeling was, it was magical.”
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Magic it sure was figures of 10.1 overs, four maidens, 25 runs and six wickets; England folded for 72 and surrendered the series. Rehman wasn’t done yet, in the first innings of the following Test in Dubai, the fizzing arm ball accounted for five more English wickets as Pakistan recorded a 3-0 whitewash.
Rehman’s fortunes though nosedived spectacularly after the England series. He was picked in the eleven for seven more Tests only— Rehman took 24 wickets in these games — and has been confined to a life of obscurity ever since Ajmal was banned last year.
Following the historic whitewash, Pakistan went through a barren period, not winning a single series for more than two years. Rehman was often the first name chucked out of the eleven as soon as the management sought ‘balance’ or aimed to play three fast bowlers to ‘suit the conditions.’
After Ajmal’s suspension, Rehman felt he would finally be relied on as the number one spinner in the eleven, fate though dealt him a cruel blow when the Moin Khan led selection committee axed him and fielded Yasir Shah and Babar for the Australia series in the UAE last year.
“I heard from a few players that the management and the selectors felt that I was out of rhythm, no one from the think tank spoke to me directly. I was shocked, but what can one do, at the end of the day a cricketer has to fight on. I am focusing on the first-class season now, I want to take wickets and score runs for Habib Bank, I want to prove to them that I am not a spent force.”
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The Mirpur Beamers
Before the Test dumping, Rehman was fielded in the Asia Cup game against Bangladesh played in Mirpur, March 2014. The bowler went through the most embarrassing moment of his international career, bowling only three balls — the eleventh over of the innings with the ball at his end in its sixth over — before being banished to the outfield.
The three deliveries — all beamers — were well above the waist of the batsman and the regulations of ODI cricket called for an immediate suspension from the bowling crease for the rest of the match.
“It was a nightmare, the most embarrassing moment of my career. I simply froze; in hindsight I should have tried the seam-up ball or just even attempted a bouncer to ensure the ball pitches on the turf. Perhaps a bowler can relate to my conundrum, cricket is a real cruel sport at times and can leave your mind numb, all options fail at such junctures.”
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Rumours were afloat that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was investigating the beamers on suspicion of deliberate foul play. Certain sections of the often ridiculously explosive Pakistan media termed Rehman’s indiscretions deliberate.
“That’s just how media reacts at times, the fact is that I went to Somerset and played two more Tests for Pakistan after that Asia Cup game. No one asked me a thing, there was no inquiry and the claims that the beamers are deliberate are absolute rubbish.”
The incumbent Chief Selector Haroon Rasheed confirms that Rehman’s integrity hasn’t been questioned, the reason for his axing is purely cricketing.
“Rehman has been out of consideration purely on cricketing grounds. He had a lacklustre season for his county Somerset last summer —Rehman was released by the county mid-season— we are looking at young options like Zafar Gohar and Mohammad Asghar. He isn’t ruled out but frankly he would need to put in a big effort this season to earn a recall, we have younger options that might get a nod before him.”
Babar meanwhile, ended the Dubai Test with a much improved show in the second innings. His three-for including the wicket of Mark Wood at the fag end of the match proved decisive ensuring that he won’t be dislodged at least before the Sharjah Test.
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Rehman’s hopes of a Test recall might start waning soon. He claims that he is fit to last for at least five more years but Pakistan is not expected to play a series in the UAE in the next 10-12 months. Their next assignment is a four Test match tour of England next summer, Haroon and his co selectors are likely to rely on Yasir only on pitches that are a stark contrast to UAE’s slow turners.
For now Rehman’s Test record stands at 99 wickets from 22 games— the perfect depiction of unfulfilled promise— Rehman though hasn’t given up yet and has vowed to put in the hard yards in the tedious Pakistan first-class season.
Of course he craves that one additional wicket which would make him the 17th Pakistan bowler in the 100 Test wickets club.
“One more wicket, oh yes, that would be very nice.”
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