Regarded as one of the finest bowlers ever in Limited-overs cricket, Umar Gul recently called time on his career which began in 2001 and along the way, brought many memorable victories for Pakistan. One of the finest proponents of the Yorker, Gul took 427 international wickets and played a pivotal role in Pakistan’s T20 World Cup triumph in 2009.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Gul reminisced about the highs and lows of his career, why he considered Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis as his role models, his regret of not performing as well in Tests as he did in the white-ball format, taking the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Brian Lara, and how he wishes to serve Pakistan after his retirement.
By Amir Husain (28th October, 2020)
PakPassion.net: What would you regard as the best moments of your career?
Umar Gul: The most important event in my cricket career and one which to this day stands out as the most memorable one was the first time that I represented my country, Pakistan. The feeling of wearing the Pakistan star on my playing jersey was incomparable to anything else I had done in my career and it was a proud moment for me. The other memory that stands out for me was the victory in the 2009 T20 World Cup in England which after the 1992 World Cup win was a huge achievement for Pakistan. There are always milestones and achievements that one remembers for a long time during their career but some memories stay in your mind for a long time and debuting for Pakistan and lifting the 2009 T20 World Cup are career-highs that I will remember forever.
PakPassion.net: Which match was the most memorable one that you participated in?
Umar Gul: Playing my first Test against India in 2004 where I was named Man of the Match is easily the most memorable match for me. This is simply because whenever a youngster performs well in a game against our arch-rivals, his name is mentioned forever in history and also makes one a superstar and in a sense, I was able to achieve that. This series was one to remember for many reasons and I was able to perform in front of a packed Gaddafi Stadium to pick up wickets of some of the top Indian players like Virendar Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman which was and still remains a huge personal achievement for me.
PakPassion.net: Who was the toughest batsman you bowled to during your international career?
Umar Gul: Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting have always been my all-time favourite batsmen and it had always been my dream to bowl to these greats and if possible, take their wickets as well. They were tough competitors and very difficult to remove but thanks to the Almighty, I was able to get Brian Lara out three times and claimed Ponting’s wicket on one occasion during my international career. I especially enjoyed taking the wicket of Brian Lara in the first Test in Lahore during the 2006 tour of Pakistan by the West Indies. Lara was no ordinary batsman and taking the wicket of this great batsman at home is something I will remember for a long time.
PakPassion.net: Which cricketer(s) inspired you the most?
Umar Gul: Like many youngsters at the time I started showing interest in cricket, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were my role models and people who inspired me to take up the game. Later, these great cricketers were also my inspiration for performing well for Pakistan. Of course, the victory in the 1992 World Cup increased my interest in cricket even further and all I wanted from then on was to play for Pakistan and become a household name just like Imran, Wasim and Waqar had become.
PakPassion.net: What was the best piece of advice you ever received as a cricketer?
Umar Gul: During the course of my career, I have received a lot of good advice from some great people but there is one piece of advice that I will never forget. When I was first selected for a domestic Under-19 side a close acquaintance and mentor of mine, Bakhtiar Mohammad, told me never to lust after money and fame but to focus on cricket and give it first priority. He told me that if I got my priorities right and performed well on the field, then money and fame would come to me by themselves. I remembered this advice throughout my career and kept my focus on cricket alone, without being distracted. As a result, the Almighty rewarded me with a great career and the respect of my countrymen.
PakPassion.net: What do you consider as the low points of your career?
Umar Gul: There are highs and lows in all aspects of life and cricket is no different. If I look back at the period when I was out of cricket due to a back injury in 2004/5, I realized that all those people who claimed to be my friends when I was part of the Pakistan side deserted me when I needed their support which was quite a depressing situation. A lot of experts at that time were saying that my career was effectively over, and I noticed that a few fair-weather friends immediately walked away from me. That was a hard pill to swallow but then on the positive side, this time also showed me who my real friends were.
To this day, I am thankful to those friends who stuck by me at that low point of my career and of course, I am indebted to my family who kept on encouraging me during that time. When we speak of a low point in cricketing terms, then the semi-final loss to India in 2011 at Mohali was heart-breaking for all of us and one of the darkest moments for us as a team and a nation.
PakPassion.net: Do you have any regrets regarding your career?
Umar Gul: If we talk about my cricket career then the only and biggest regret is that we failed to win the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup in Mohali. We had done so well in that tournament until that match but could not complete the job and that will remain as a huge regret. We had been performing really well as a team and even at an individual level, but we just could not translate that into a win at the semi-final stage. In fact, I feel that had we not lost the semi-final, we were quite capable of going all the way to win the 2011 World Cup. Of course, one can say that this is all part of the game, but I will always regret the fact that we missed a golden opportunity to win another World Cup for Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: Is there anything you feel you could have done differently during your time as a cricketer?
Umar Gul: To be honest I have nothing to complain about when I look at my performances in white-ball cricket. I ended my career with reasonable averages for T20Is and ODIs but where I should have paid more attention and improved was in the Test format. I do wish, I had performed better and taken more Test wickets, so instead of ending up with 163 wickets in 47 matches, I would have liked to have taken close to 200 wickets by the time I played my last Test.
PakPassion.net: How do you want to be remembered as a cricketer?
Umar Gul: I have been blessed by the Almighty with a career that lasted almost 20 years but I am glad to say that during that time, apart from doing my best to become a world class cricketer, I always tried to become a good human being. I believe that this is how I wish to be remembered when people speak about my career in the future. To be a well-known international cricketer is an achievement in itself but what holds bigger importance for me is to be always remembered as a good human being and I hope that will be the case now that I have left the game for good. For those who think that holding higher ideals whilst concentrating on your career is a tough ask, let me say that it’s easier than it seems. As Muslims, we are always told to be disciplined in the way we go about our lives and along the way, to treat others with respect, whether they are younger, older or senior to us. All these are essential parts of being a good human and hopefully, I have managed to do that during my career and will hopefully be talked about in that way for many years to come.
PakPassion.net: What advice would you give to youngsters coming into the game today?
Umar Gul: My advice to all youngsters will be the same as the advice that my mentor Bakhtiar Mohammad gave to me which was to not fall into the trap of worrying about making more money or becoming famous, but to simply work hard and concentrate on doing your best in cricket. Everything else will fall into place when you become a good cricketer. You get fame, friends and of course money as well. There is no shortcut to this and those who have tried that in the past have been found out and suffered shame as a consequence.
PakPassion.net: Who do you credit the most for success in your career?
Umar Gul: There is no doubt in my mind that you cannot achieve anything in life unless there is support from your family and I was blessed with love and encouragement from my parents and the rest of my family. Initially there was some pressure from the family for me to pursue studies instead of playing cricket at a professional level. However, once it became clear that I had passion for the game and was talented enough to achieve my goals of becoming a top-class cricketer then the support I got from my family was absolutely incredible. Of course, hard work is important to reach one’s goals but I was also fortunate enough to have come through the system and my basic grounding in cricket was very good and this probably helped me a lot to grow as a cricketer and to eventually serve my country.
PakPassion.net: What are your future plans?
Umar Gul: Pakistan and its people have given me their love and affection during my career and I would be more than happy to return the favour after my retirement. Cricket has been an important part of my life and I am very keen to be involved in the game whether it’s as a mentor, a bowling consultant, coach or any other role that the PCB needs me to perform. My services will always be available for my country and it would indeed be an honour to continue to serve Pakistan in any capacity.