Pakistan have actually achieved an even more impressive feat than becoming the top-ranked Test side. It takes a particular kind of artistry to become the top-ranked Test side while also maintaining ninth position in the one-day rankings. Hats off.
So what’s the difference? An obvious answer would be ‘Misbah-ul-Haq and Younus Khan’ but the truth is Pakistan weren’t actually that good even before that pair retired from the format. Aside from two series against Zimbabwe, a 3-2 win against Sri Lanka last year is all they’ve really had to celebrate in 50-over cricket since beating the same side in 2013.
Not that they’ve played series against West Indies, India or South Africa in that time. Haven’t we had this conversation already?
Sticking with those unarguable arbiters of worth, the rankings, it’s interesting to look at Pakistan’s individual batsmen and bowlers too. Mohammad Hafeez is their highest-ranked one-day batsman in 22nd place, followed by Ahmed Shahzad in 35th and Azhar Ali in 49th.
Somewhat unexpectedly, their bowling rankings are just as bad. While Mohammad Irfan is 10th, next best is Wahab Riaz in 45th and Yasir Shah in 49th. Perhaps this is a product of the ever-changing nature of their attack and perhaps their overall underperformance results from this too. Perhaps underlining that, Irfan has been dropped for this series.
Umar Gul’s back though. People have been talking a lot about Pakistan defying stereotypes this summer, but bowlers don’t come much more Pakistani than Umar Gul. He’s played for Pakistan over 200 times and we still can’t work out whether he’s the world’s shittest fine bowler or the finest shit one.
We like Umar Gul. He moves like a puppet. That’s always a likeable quality in a person (unless they remind you of Zelda from Terrahawks).
Umar Gul is also a brilliant reverse swing bowler. Give him a red ball, he’s mediocre. Give him a new white ball, he’s okay. Give him an old white ball and FLAXEN LOCKS OF GOWER!
If there’s even a hint of reverse swing, suddenly he becomes a different bowler. It’s not just that he’s suddenly swinging the ball about how he pleases. He also bowls around 10mph quicker.
If you actually enjoy cricket, you can’t help but have enjoyed watching Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Aamer and Umar Gul bowl yesterday. It was better than spoon meat and carbonated dipping jam.
That they bowled Australia out for 88 was something of a bonus. Quite simply, this was cricket LIKE IT’S MEANT TO BE. These three bowlers actually had a choice as to what they did with the ball, swinging it in and out and seaming it as well. They didn’t just ‘put it in the right areas’ hoping for the best. They had plans, they were devious and they were flat-out ace.
It makes it so much more interesting. What will the next ball do? How will the batsman cope? There was no ‘plugging away outside off’. There was no ‘waiting for the bad ball’. There was an actual battle going on out there because for once it wasn’t a batsman with a tank and air strikes against a bowler with a blindfold on and his knees tied together.
It was Test cricket.
There are a lot of cute, overcomplicated theories about Twenty20 cricket: Mix it up. You’ve got to bowl something different every ball.
South Africa’s hugely impressive left-armer, Wayne Parnell, showed that if you can bowl yorkers on demand, you can make it very hard to score. But Parnell’s got room for improvement.
Over the course of the World Twenty20, Umar Gul has shown that if you can bowl reverse swinging yorkers on demand, even the best batsmen in the world can’t do a thing.
Should he maybe bowl the odd bouncer? Wasim Akram had the answer: “No.”
Why would you bother?
Gul’s just about the only bowler who’s got the ball to swing in this tournament and the cocky, spoilt batsmen of the world haven’t been able to do a thing. It’s reassuring to see that skilful bowlers are making the difference. It’s also obvious that would happen, but no less reassuring for that.
Incidentally, can we have a verdict on whether he looks like Ciaran Hinds or not. We’re wrong aren’t we? We know we are, but we need to be told.