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As director of Pakistan's National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Lahore, Mudassar Nazar, the former Test opener, often travelled to the hinterland in search of talent. He recalls one such fruitful tour in early 2007 when he spotted two exceptional young fast bowlers.
Scant exposure to the outside world meant the two had one elementary problem in their bowling action. Just before they released the ball their heads fell sideways. It was a flaw that didn't allow them to bowl an in-swinger. However, they owned the pace to hurry batsmen and had a fine out-swinger. Nazar was impressed with the raw talent and brought them to the NCA in Lahore where they were put under the tutelage of former medium pacer Aaqib Javed.
Within months, the two teens were not just picked for the Pakistan under-19 team that was to tour England but were also labelled as the 'next big pacers' from the country with a rich tradition of new ball bowlers. In the years come, Mohammad Aamir and Junaid Khan were to live up to their early promise. Though, Aamir famously blew it up, Junaid raced ahead of his one-time pace partner.
"I first saw Junaid bowl at Abbotabad. It was during the same trip that I spotted Aamir at the Rawalpindi. Aamir was the more talented of the two also because he could get the ball to swing in at times. But Junaid was a quick learner and he was much stronger than Aamir and would not tire," Nazar said.
Nazar gives an example about Junaid's 'cunning'. "There was this England batsman who was getting on to the front-foot and playing our fast bowlers well. Junaid began thinking. He set up the batsman by bowling short to him and then delivered a yorker that dismissed him. Here was a bowler who hardly a year ago hadn't received any formal coaching, but he was already thinking like an experienced fast bowler. With every passing month he was improving. He has also figured out the angles from around the wicket," Nazar said.