It has been more than 11 years since Umar Gul made his international debut against Zimbabwe. His elevation to the senior team was made possible by Pakistan’s poor show at the World Cup 2003; and the situation isn’t different at the moment as the selectors are unable to find a quality right-arm pacer.
He had the experience of only nine first class matches when he arrived at the international arena; 11 years later he has earned the nickname of Gull Dozer and his will to roar has only increased. The News on Sunday interviewed Umar Gul during the ongoing season of Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in which he spoke about the ups and downs of his career, fitness issues, and prospects for the next World Cup as well as the future of fast bowlers in Pakistan.
TNS: It has been a long journey for you that has been cut short by injuries and bad patches. What do you think have been the main ups and downs of your career?
Umar Gul: Well, I was very young when I came to Pakistan team in 2003. But after 2007, circumstances gave me the opportunity to lead Pakistan’s bowling attack and I am satisfied that whenever I was provided with an opportunity, I performed according to the expectations. Ups and downs are part and parcel of a cricketer’s career; I don’t look back at things which I missed. But I do believe that my performance in the 2007 and 2009 World T20 were the best of my career.
TNS: You mean to say that World T20 victory was the best moment of your career?
Umar Gul: I would say the best is yet to come; I would want to be part of World Cup 2015 squad and play a role in making Pakistan champions. But yes, World T20 victory has been perhaps the biggest achievement of my career. It was Pakistan’s first major title in cricket since 1992 World Cup win, so it was very special to everyone in the team. That victory came at a time when Pakistan had many internal problems and I am glad that we became a reason for our countrymen to celebrate.
TNS: Any regrets or “a very good opportunity lost” in your career?
Umar Gul: I don’t regret my losing something, being dropped or catches being missed are part of your career, but losing the semi-final of the World Cup in 2011 against India I would always regret. People considered Pakistan as underdogs before the mega event, but we defied all odds and reached the final-four, where we lost, unfortunately, to the eventual champions.
TNS: You’ve also played in IPL, and T20 leagues in South Africa and Australia. Has playing in foreign leagues helped you as a cricketer?
Umar Gul: Playing IPL’s inaugural edition was a good experience, and I think playing foreign leagues are always helpful. They give you confidence along with an idea about the conditions in other countries. I think all the players should play for foreign leagues, whenever they get an opportunity, and PCB should not stop them from gaining experience.
TNS: With your experience of playing foreign leagues, how do you think Pakistan can improve the standard of its domestic cricket?
Umar Gul: We need to make our domestic cricket more competitive; the best performers should be rewarded properly. Players should be provided specialised coaches at domestic level so that they can improve the basics at home.
TNS: There was a time when a major share of Pakistan’s bowling burden was on the shoulders of fast bowlers; but it seems that it has now been taken over by spinners. What’s the reason for such a shift?
Umar Gul: I believe that since we play regularly out of Pakistan, mostly in spin-friendly conditions of the UAE, that’s why spinners have been more effective than pacers. If spinners are bowling 50 overs a day, then the remaining 40 are being bowled by fast bowlers. Cricket is a team game, and everyone has a pre-decided role to play.
TNS: How are you, being a fast bowler, missing Muhammad Amir and Muhammad Asif in the squad?
Umar Gul: I don’t think that their absence made a big difference. We should look forward; life doesn’t stop if someone is not around. I think myself, along with Wahab (Riaz) and Junaid (Khan) didn’t let the team feel that Asif and Amir are not around.
TNS: Why is Pakistan cricket not producing pacers like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis?
Umar Gul: These days, we are struggling with fast bowling options. After Wasim and Waqar Bhai, Shoaib Akhtar took over, who was joined by me, Sami, Asif and Amir. Since a pacer is more-injury prone than a spinner, we are facing this dilemma. I am sure that in the future, we will once again rule the world due to our fast bowlers.
As far as bowlers in domestic cricket are concerned, I think Bilawal Bhatti is good; he is not only fast but I believe with the passage of time he’ll learn and improve. Up and coming pacers Shahzad Rana and Imran Khan Jr also have the potential to represent Pakistan, but sadly, the list is not as long as you would expect.
TNS: Why do our fast bowlers get injured so often?
Umar Gul: Fast bowlers are usually exposed to all types of injuries; they come up with a big run-up to deliver the ball, an action that requires more energy, more power. So, it is not unusual if a fast bowler gets injured.
I think pacers should be handled properly to avoid injuries; sometimes workload also causes injury.
TNS: What’s the update on your fitness?
Umar Gul: My rhythm in the recently concluded National T20 was much better than what I had been expecting. I am also playing in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy and thankfully, I am feeling better and satisfied with my fitness. There are a few more matches to be played before the New Zealand series and I am looking to regain complete form in domestic circuit so that I can get the attention of the selectors.
TNS: So, you’re aiming to return for New Zealand series?
Umar Gul: Definitely, but it is up to the selectors. I am in good form, bowling with proper rhythm and am ready for a comeback. My aim is to represent Pakistan in the World Cup next year and I am confident that I can perform well in conditions Down Under. If I am given an opportunity in the mega-event, I will do my best to win back the World Cup.