Thursday, 27 October 2011

Gul gets going

He can take wickets and he can give the batsmen lip. What's not to love?

 Umar Gul steams in, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Dubai, 1st day, October 26, 2011

Choice of game
I'd always wanted to watch the opening day of a Test match, and with Pakistan's second Test against Sri Lanka being held in Dubai, where I live and work, I took the day off and made sure I was there.
Team supported
As a Pakistani, it was only natural for me to be supporting Pakistan. I hoped they would get to bowl first because I believed that was my best chance to see some exciting cricket. Dilshan won the toss, elected to bat, and the Pakistan bowling line-up duly delivered.
Key performer
Umar Gul, without a doubt. He shook the Sri Lankan top order with three wickets in his first five overs. His sensational new-ball spell set the tone for the rest of the innings, and though he took no further wickets, the damage had already been done. He also dispelled any doubts about his match fitness by bowling close to 20 overs in the day
One thing I'd have changed
I would have picked a third seamer for Pakistan. The choice to include two specialist spinners, Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, might end up being vindicated, but today, with the conditions offering some assistance to the seamers and Sri Lanka at 73 for 5, Pakistan really missed the pace and energy that Aizaz Cheema or Wahab Riaz would have offered them.
Interplay I enjoyed
The 65th over of play was an absolute cracker. It was after tea and Sri Lanka's ninth-wicket partnership was beginning to frustrate Pakistan. Misbah-ul-Haq had just replaced Ajmal with Rehman, and Junaid Khan looked like he was warming up to replace Gul, who walked up to Misbah and requested one more over.
Gul's first ball to Herath hit him on the pads, and the fielders and the crowd went up in an almighty appeal, which was turned down. Gul turned around and gave Herath a earful. The crowd, loving the aggression, turned the noise up even further; Gul, seemingly spurred on by the crowd, kept the verbal barrage going. Herath's strike partner, Chanaka Welegedara, came up and had a word, only to get his own share of abuse. As Gul finally returned to the top of his mark, the crowd could sense the battle in the middle was heating up. Herath took a single off the next ball, bringing Welegedara on strike to face some fiery short-pitched stuff. The first delivery was, incredibly, hooked for six, and the remaining ones safely if not utterly convincingly negotiated. It would be the last over Gul would bowl in the day. He had quite clearly given it his all and the crowd let him know his efforts were appreciated.
Wow moment
Pakistan's catching in the morning stood out for its assuredness. After the catching in the second innings of the Abu Dhabi Test, it was remarkable to see the first four catching opportunities offered today being comfortably snapped up. Unfortunately Pakistan soon reverted to type: Sangakkara was dropped by Taufeeq Umar before he had reached 30, and Herath by Younis Khan off the first ball he faced.
Shot of the day
Although there was some brilliant strokeplay all around the wicket from Sangakkara, the shot of the day had to be Welegedara's pull shot off Junaid Khan right before tea. It was positively thumped for four, and the crack literally reverberated around the stadium. The fact that it came completely against the run of play with Pakistan well on top and Junaid in the middle of another probing spell from around the wicket made it even more remarkable.
Banner of the day
The only ones I saw were the ones I was holding up! Despite my best efforts I remained unsuccessful in catching the cameraman's eye with a "Who needs Amir and Asif when you have Junaid and Gul" poster, and one offering some freelance consultancy to the PCB.
Marks out of 10
An 8. I do wish more people had turned up to watch than the few hundred in attendance. There were moments when the crowd really got into the game. Had it been 10,000 people making noise rather than a few hundred, it would have made for a truly memorable experience.
The day lived up to all that I had hoped for and I thoroughly enjoyed the cricket. I especially loved the ebbs and flows through the day and the battles within the game that seem to be a luxury afforded only to the longest format of cricket.
A very well-informed British gentleman of Pakistani origin was next to me in the stands. He was here especially for the Test match. As he took his seat, Junaid had just bowled the first ball of the 12th over from over the wicket to Dilshan and had had a leg before-appeal turned down. "He needs to go around the wicket if he wants to take a wicket," my new neighbour said. The very next ball Junaid went around the wicket, and with the last ball of the over, bowling from around the wicket, he dismissed Dilshan.
Osama Siddiqui is a 26-year-old from Karachi. He currently resides in Dubai and works for HSBC Amanah. An absolute sports nut since the time he learned to turn on the TV, cricket is one of his passions. Although he never quite had what it takes to become a professional sportsman, he never stops dreaming. His goals include coaching at the school level and continuing to dream about life as a sportsman.

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