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Older, slower, but wiser: Sohail Khan returns to Pakistan to help take down England

 

 

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Karachi, goes the jibe, does not do fast bowlers. A certain kind of batsman, the kind who knows how to make a score, sure. Wicketkeepers, no issues. Players with massive victim complexes – there aren’t enough numbers in the world.

Fast bowlers? There was Mohammad Munaf years ago when Fazal Mahmood was the alpha male of the genre. There was/is/always will be Mohammad Sami but he has never been chained by easy generalisations. There was Tanvir Ahmed too and that, perhaps, is all that can be said about him.

 

Just where that leaves Sohail Khan is unclear. He is not from Karachi but he has made it his base. His deep association with Rashid Latif grants him an honorary citizenship and means he is more Karachi than a lot of people who are from the city itself.

He is also not really a fast bowler, at least not of the kind that satisfies the fervent popular Pakistani imagination. Or he is, in that he has the build. He has the autodidactic life story for it, the throwing rocks to strengthen his shoulder, the swimming upstream and the running around a ground with a wheel tied to his back.

 

He has the attitude for it – telling Virat Kohli before the 2015 World Cup that he may well be a lion, but only in his home. You can see it in his earliest interviews, around the time he emerged in 2007, where he talked obsessively about his pace, and those around him talked about it with an equal fervour.

That first season itself in Pakistan, a record-breaking one, was ripe for myth-making. Domestic batsmen said they had not come across someone so quick. Stumps flew. He had a wicked yorker. The bouncer was good.

 

But actually he has never been tearaway quick, even if he sold himself willingly as one and people bought into it with equal willingness. He was swift, sure, but this is a territory scorched by Imran Khan, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram on days when he could not contain the nastiness inside him, Shoaib Akhtar and the absolute gold standard of real, pure juddering pace, Mohammad Zahid.

When he first played for Pakistan, with the benefit of speed guns (not that they are always a definitive barometer) this became clear. He got hell for a surface on his Test debut, but then Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir came together and began redefining pace, he got lost in their rise.

 

After their fall he got another chance but that Test in Zimbabwe only seemed to be a means to allow him to be overtaken by other unheralded workers like Aizaz Cheema, who did not have the attitude, had susceptible hair and without anyone acknowledging it, actually bowled faster than Sohail.

And that, everyone thought, was that. He came, and now he was gone. Except that fast bowling in Pakistan, as rich and celebrated and rewarding a tradition as it is, is also very fickle – as quickly as you get in, you can be gone and you are never gone for good. Like flares, you just wait to get back into fashion.

 

So Sohail came back for the World Cup, became a little bit of a hero – a five-fer against India is sufficient – and then got injured and was out again: the nailed-on circle of life for a Pakistani fast bowler.

So he is back again, not from the blue at all but just back. It was, to some, a surprise that he got selected ahead of Imran Khan.

And he still is not the bowler we all thought he was or was supposed to be, or he aspired to be. And judging by the results of the first innings five-fer in Edgbaston, he is all the better for it.

 

On Wednesday, he later revealed, he deliberately cut down on pace to give the ball "more air" to swing more – it is a theory that has gone around that the reason they have not swung the ball as much as some English bowlers is because they have bowled quicker than what might be needed. He took that lesson from watching James Anderson bowl and bowling with a Dukes ball, as opposed to the Kookaburra and Gray’s that he is used to in Pakistan, helped too.

 

If the deliberate cutting of pace still does not ring entirely true – no fast bowler who thinks he is a real fast bowler wants to be bowling sub-80mph with a new ball even at the end of a long-haul day – then it is only natural. He is 32 now and though strongly built that frame probably hampers him – a more lithesome body might have enabled him to sustain pace over time.

If it means he is a smarter bowler – and smartness was what defined that five-fer against India rather than pace – than when he first came to the scene, then Pakistan will not mind that one bit either.

 

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

 

 

Courtsey The National