While the IPL is in full swing in India, the Pakistan-South Africa series is catching the attention of many.
In the 3rd T20I, Pakistan chased down 204 runs with 9 wickets & 2 overs to spare, courtesy a 197-run partnership from Mohammad Rizwan & Babar Azam, who scored 122 (59). Earlier in the day, news broke that Azam also dethroned Virat Kohli as the #1 ICC ODI batsman after a mammoth 1258 days.
Add Fakhar Zaman’s brilliant 193 in the ODI series, Hafeez’s second coming, & the fast bowling line up, the question should be asked—Is the IPL really the best T20 tournament without Pakistani players?
The Fall of Pakistan Cricket
Pakistan dominated the Indo-Pak cricket rivalry in the 1990s, while India has crushed it in the 2010s. Only in the 2000s, did we have battle of equals.
For India’s tenacious Rahul Dravid, Pakistan had Younis Khan. Similarly, the elegance of Yousuf & Tendulkar, stability of Inzamam & Laxman/Ganguly, & exuberance of Afridi & Sehwag were on par with each other. The destructiveness of Shoaib Akhtar-Asif-Sami on one side matched the abilities of Irfan Pathan-Zaheer Khan-Kumble-Harbhajan on the other.
India narrowly won the 2004 Test series 2-1 & ODI series 3-2 held in Pakistan. Pakistan returned the favor next year with a 1-1 drawn Test series & 4-2 ODI victory held in India. Both memorable events.
Hence, the struggle of Pakistan cricket team over the last decade & lack of competitiveness in recent ICC tournaments has been disheartening. The new generation of Pakistan cricket is slowly making this a battle of equals again.
The New Generation of Pakistan Cricket Rises
Mohammad Rizwan is currently the best T20I batsman in the world (sorry Dawid Malan). Shaheen Shah Afridi can compete with the Rabadas & Bumrahs of the world. The leg spin of Shadab Khan & Usman Qadir with a line up of Afridi-Naseem Shah-Hasan Ali-Haris Rauf can send shivers down the opposition camp.
Babar Azam is the best player in the world. Period.
Each IPL team can benefit from Haider Ali & Faheem Ashraf’s power, experience of Mohammad Hafeez & Shoaib Malik, and the pace of discarded Mohammad Amir & Mohammad Hasnain.
“Imagine Babar-Kohli opening for RCB, Fakhar-Rohit hitting double centuries, & Bumrah-Shaheen bowling together at the death.”
With South African, Sri Lankan, & West Indian foreign contingent in the prime of their careers from 2007-2017, absence of Pakistani players in the IPL made sense.
It no longer does.
South Africa & Sri Lanka’s Eternal Transition Period
Kumar Sangakkara & Mahela Jayawardene once used to captain IPL teams. They are now the only Sri Lankan representation in IPL 2021 (as coaches) as no SL players were picked in the auction. Gone is the era of Malinga-Murali-Dilshan.
With an eternal transition process in South Africa, only Rabada-Nortje (and Ngidi to a certain extent) have risen to the occasion. Otherwise, AB De Villiers & Faf Du Plessis from an earlier generation are still carrying the South Africa baton. Similarly, lots of West Indians in the IPL are from the World Cup winning generation (Gayle, Narine, Pollard, Russell).
The lack of variety in foreign talent is hitting the brand of the IPL. It seems that only India & England are producing new talent year in & year out, with Australia & New Zealand close behind.
It is time for some more talent to flow in—Pakistani talent that is. On the flip side, BCCI’s reluctance to let Indians play abroad should also be reconsidered, but that is a story for another day.
Looking Back to IPL 2008
The inception of the tournament in 2008 is the perfect template to follow.
Rajasthan Royals benefitted from having Pakistan talent in their squad with Kamral Akmal, Younis Khan, & most importantly Sohail Tanvir, the maiden purple cap winner. The Knight Riders enjoyed the pace duo of Shoaib Akhtar & Umar Gul, who took a match-winning 4-fer. KKR also had Salman Butt & the ageless Mohammad Hafeez in their ranks.
Few others participated in the IPL as well—Shahid Afridi (Deccan Chargers), Shoaib Malik & Mohammad Asif (Delhi Daredevils), & Misbah-ul-Haq (Royal Challengers Bangalore).
IPL 2020 Was Ideal But There Is Still Time
IPL 2020 was the best opportunity for adding Pakistani players to the IPL auctions. The world was struggling from a pandemic, and the tournament was taking place at Pakistan’s adopted home ground, the UAE.
What better time to get Pakistan players in? Unfortunately, that did not happen.
There is still time.
Babar is 26, Rizwan 28, & Amir 29. It would be great to watch Mohammad Amir versus Virat Kohli once again, and there is enough love across the border to make it happen.
Umar Gul’s retirement evoked an emotional response from all around the world following his final match at the National T20 Cup. Here is our take on Umar Gul’s most memorable moments, his legacy, and what we can learn from him.
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If you love watching fast bowlers and stumps rattled, stay tuned. Several videos ahead! Watch till the end to listen to Gul in his own words.
Pakistan cricket is known for unearthing fast-bowling talents one after the other, especially left-arm quicks. Pakistan is world cricket’s pace bowling factory. Imran Khan and Sarfaraz Nawaz created a rich legacy.
Over the years, they have produced the intimidating Wasims, Wahabs, and Waqars, the breathtaking Shoaibs and Samis, and the gifted Asifs and Amirs. The list is endless. Recently, with the rise of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah, it never seems to stop.
Umar Gul, the architect of Pakistan’s 2009 T20 World Cup victory, is not even mentioned. That is exactly how Gul’s career panned—under the radar.
My favorite memory of Umar Gul though is from the 2009 T20 World Cup. It was just a great World Cup to watch – Netherlands upsetting England courtesy Stuart Broad, the Dilscoop mesmerizing spectators on the international stage, and a clinical Pakistan team.
Gul’s best performance came at a crucial Super 8 stage, when he picked 5 for 6 against New Zealand, reducing them from 73-4 to 99 all out.
He continued his form as Pakistan’s highest wicket-taker in the 2011 ODI World Cup and was a regular member of the international squad till 2013, when injuries began to halt his career. Unfortunately apart from a brief recall in 2016, Gul’s international career was over at the age of 32.
Gul’s legacy is forever etched in stone with the 2009 World T20 triumph, but his impact in cricket is much more.
He taught the world how to bowl in T20 cricket.
These days, T20 leagues invest in “death-overs specialists” with the likes of Andrew Tye, Jasprit Bumrah, Chris Morris, and Shaheen Afridi, but this would not have been possible without Umar Gul’s contribution. He practically created that spot.
Although death bowling was his focal point, Gul was more than just yorkers.
He had the skills as a proper line and length pace Test bowler but evolved his art with reverse swing, bouncers, and most importantly, change of pace slower deliveries, which was uncommon at that time.
As always, Umar Gul would adapt. New situation, new environment, new teammates. Mentorship has been one of his great characteristics throughout his career.
He partnered with the likes of Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan, and Mohammad Irfan to transition to another era. In the dry tracks of UAE, they would find new tricks to the fast bowling trade, bringing life out of these pitches.
He was not the fastest of the Pakistani bowlers, nor could he swing it like Asif, but he made sure to reinvent himself when the time was required. He was a shrewd and thinking cricketer. Always one step ahead of the batsman. Having a variety of skills is one aspect. Utilizing the skill at the right moment and varying it effectively—now that is what makes him great.
Animated on the field and quiet off the field, he did his duty. He changed cricket and inspired millions of budding cricketers around the world, mentoring youngsters in the domestic team even to the last day.
We can all learn from Umar Gul and apply these traits in our daily life as well. Change is the only constant in life, and we should learn to adjust accordingly. If we focus on the process and continue to improve our skills, there is no reason why we cannot compete with the best in the world.
Life will throw several challenges at you. You may get injured, have a bad day at the office, go through emotional turbulence, but do not worry.
Hang in there and just keep swimming as Umar Gul did.
What will I miss? Personally, I just adored Umar Gul’s action. It was fluent, uncomplicated, had a slight stop, but was straight to the point.
He was truly a magician.
Thank you, Umar Gul. Have a happy and healthy retirement.
Umar Gul in his Own Words
The best way to end this journey is Umar Gul in his own words. A wonderful send-off to a champion bloke. Listen below.