India-destroyer Gul is cricket's gain

Updated on Apr 06, 2004 12:23 AM IST

It is a miracle that Pakistan's Umar Gul, who wrecked the cream of India's batting in the second Test, is playing cricket at all.

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PTI | ByKuldip Lal (AFP), Lahore

It is a miracle that Pakistan's Umar Gul, who wrecked the cream of India's batting in the second Test here on Monday, is playing cricket at all.

He had enough inspiration around him as a toddler to take up squash.

The lanky seamer hails from the same north-western Pakistani village of Nawa-e-Kali that threw up legendary squash champions Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan and Qamar Zaman.

It was Zaman, a former British Open champion, who introduced Gul to cricket by buying him a cricket ball when the young lad had no money to play with his friends in the village.

Gul, who turns 20 on April 14, was picked for the talent search program of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), where he was groomed by fast-bowling great Wasim Akram and former international Rashid Khan.

"I saw Gul bowl at the PIA nets and I was immediately struck by the lad's height and his natural bowling action," Akram recalled.

"I thought we had someone here who could make it big and ensured Gul got all the help and facilities from PIA."

Gul, who made his Test debut against Bangladesh last August, made an impression in the third Test of that series when he bagged four wickets in each innings.

He was, however, ignored for the first part of India's long-awaited tour of Pakistan, missing both the one-day series and the first Test at Multan last week which the tourists won by an innings and 52 runs.

But a shin injury to Shabbir Ahmed hastened Gul's return for the second Test here as Pakistan prepared a seaming wicket to hit back at the Indians.

And Akram's advice to Pakistani bowlers - bowl straight, not fast - which was published in Monday's newspapers rang in Gul's ears as he marked his run-up at the Gaddafi stadium.

In a remarkable comeback, Gul took a career-best five wickets as India were reduced to 127-6 after electing to take first strike on the greenish wicket.

Only a defiant 112 from Yuvraj Singh helped the tourists recover to 287 all out.

Gul dismissed first Test heroes Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar in the space of six deliveries, and had stand-in captain Rahul Dravid and Venkatsai Laxman caught in the slips.

"To have such renowned batsmen like Tendulkar against my name is amazing," said Gul, the son of a farmer and the youngest of five brothers and two sisters.

"We were told in the team meeting not to get overawed by the world-class Indian batsmen and when I slept last night I had tried to plan how to get them out."

Gul's only regret was that Akram, who was away in Singapore, was not around to see him bowl.

"When Wasim-bhai was playing for PIA, I used to watch him more instead of bowling myself and the coach had to remind me that I was not there as a fan, but as a player," Gul said, using the respectful form of Akram's first name.

Now, Gul is bowling and others are watching him.

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