In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Umar Gul discusses the upcoming World XI tour of Pakistan, Umar Akmal's controversial claims of having received verbal abuse from Mickey Arthur, replacements for Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, his future at the Pakistan Super League and his hopes of a comeback to the Pakistan side.
By Amir Husain (26th August, 2017)
The recent news of gradual resumption of international cricket in Pakistan has been met with universal acclaim due to its historic importance. Due to the tragic events of 2009, all international cricket ceased to be played in Pakistan and barring some well-meaning efforts such as the tour by the Zimbabwean team in 2015, the PCB have found it near impossible to attract foreign teams to play in Pakistan.
Thankfully, all that changed in March 2017 when the final of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) was successfully staged in Lahore. In addition, if the planned visit by a World XI to play in the Independence Cup, which comprises of three Twenty20 games in Lahore on the 12th, 13th and 15th of September goes according to plan then the Sri Lankan and West Indian teams could well be in action on Pakistan soil in the next two to three months.
Apart from local audiences who have been starved of watching international stars on home grounds, the news of the World XI’s tour is a breath of fresh air for Pakistan players as well. In virtual exile and forced to play even ‘home games’ in foreign lands since 2009, it is indeed a miracle of sorts that the Pakistan team rose to the number one ranking in Tests in 2016 and has also recently won the Champions Trophy.
To players like Pakistan’s 33-year-old fast bowler Umar Gul, the confirmation of the World XI’s tour of Pakistan is excellent news for the millions of fans of the game in Pakistan as he remarked in an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net “This is fantastic news for the followers of cricket in Pakistan. It’s great to hear that the top players from world cricket will be visiting Pakistan and I hope and pray that all goes well on this tour. One must thank the PCB and its Chairman for turning an idea into reality. I feel that a successful tour by the World XI will serve as an important first step towards a full resumption of international cricket in Pakistan. The Sri Lanka and West Indies teams will also hopefully visit Pakistan after they see how well the World XI tour of Pakistan goes, especially in terms of the overall security situation.”
The choice of Lahore as the only venue for the World XI games has raised eyebrows amongst many who feel that other cities should have also been chosen to host these games, especially given the interest in cricket across the length and breadth of Pakistan. Whilst Umar Gul agrees with the sentiment in general, he understands the reasons behind PCB’s decision for the choice of venue for the upcoming Independence Cup.
“The PCB have chosen a venue for the upcoming games against the World XI based upon security considerations and I have no problem with that. Once the Independence Cup is over and conducted in a satisfactory manner then we should consider playing some of the games against the Sri Lanka or West Indies teams in Karachi or other parts of Pakistan which are considered safe as well.”
Whilst the nation rejoices over the potential resumption of international cricket in Pakistan, the recent controversy regarding Umar Akmal’s allegations of abuse being directed at him by Pakistan Head Coach Mickey Arthur seem to have cast a dark shadow on Pakistan cricket. The Pakistan batsman has recently filed his reply to the PCB’s show-cause notice which was issued due to a breach of code of conduct and it appears that the matter is far from a resolution.
As a veteran of over 230 international games, Umar Gul appealed for calmer heads to prevail for the betterment of Pakistan cricket as he remarked, “Firstly, I feel that the only people who can clearly tell us what really happened are the witnesses such as Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed who were present when the incident took place at the NCA. Regardless of what was said, I feel that Pakistan players should not be stopped from training at the National Cricket Academy as the purpose of the academy is to allow national players to practice there. Whilst I do understand that contracted players are given some preference so that they can iron out issues in their techniques, I do not think that there has ever been a case where a Pakistan player has been stopped from using NCA facilities. Regardless of what exactly happened there, what needs to happen now is that this matter needs to be resolved in a calm and amicable manner by the PCB and an understanding needs to be reached between the Head Coach and the player.”
The true extent of the loss to Pakistan cricket due to retirements of Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq and the record-breaking batsman Younis Khan will probably come to light when Pakistan plays its next Test series against Sri Lanka. With Sarfaraz Ahmed appointed as the new captain, the Pakistan Test squad is now embarking on a new phase but Umar Gul, himself a veteran of 47 Test matches feels that it won’t be long before replacements will emerge to take place of the retired batsmen.
“It is difficult for any team when players of such standing leave at once and you cannot expect replacements to be found instantaneously. It will take a little time to prepare batsmen who can step into the vacant positions but in my mind, Usman Salahuddin will be an able replacement. He has performed well in the last season and has all the qualities needed to succeed at the highest level. Like I said, we may not have ready replacements for Misbah and Younis but it’s only a matter of time before such players emerge from our system”.
Umar Gul last played for Pakistan during the England tour of 2016 when he participated in the ODI series. Since that time, the fast-bowler has been out of favour with Pakistan selectors, with a fractured forearm during the 2017 PSL also not helping his case. With time marching on and the emergence of younger talent in the shape of Hasan Ali and a comeback for Junaid Khan, it is important that Umar Gul makes the most of the opportunities that are presented to him to bring himself into contention for future selection in the national squad. This is a challenge that the fast-bowler who was once considered one of the best exponents of the yorker delivery is determined to take head-on.
“I have been working very hard in the past few months and feel totally fit at the moment. The injury during PSL was a big setback for me but I have completely recovered from it and I also took part in the Pakistan Cup in April this year where I took 7 wickets in three games. Looking ahead, I will be taking part in the National T20 Cup for Islamabad which has now been postponed due to the World XI visit to Pakistan. Beyond that, I am also looking forward to the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy where I would like to show the world that I am back to my best and wish to play for Pakistan again.”
The second edition of the Pakistan Super League was disappointing for Umar Gul as he could only play two games for Quetta Gladiators, with his participation ending abruptly due to an injury. Once considered Pakistan’s top fast-bowler with 427 international wickets to his name, Umar Gul feels that in addition to the National T20 Cup and the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the next edition of Pakistan’s premier Twenty20 tournament will also provide him with an opportunity to impress selectors provided he is given a fair chance to play games during the competition as he explained, “Quetta Gladiators primarily rely on a spin attack which meant that I got less opportunities to play in the 2017 edition of the PSL. It’s great to be part of the PSL but it can get a little frustrating if you have to sit out games as I did when I played just two games out of eight before I was ruled out due to injury. Obviously, it depends on the franchises as to which team will employ me but my aim is to play for any team that will be able to use my services to the fullest,” he concluded.