Next big thing is here

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.

Junaid used the in-swinger to bowl Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli during the first One-day International in Chennai and cleaned up southpaw Yuvraj Singh with a delivery that held its line. With 4 for 43 at the Chinnaswamy Stadium earlier this week, Junaid ticked an important box — a match-winning performance against India. The 23-year-old followed it up with 3 for 39 in the next game at the Eden Gardens. These wickets prompted Wasim Akram to call for Junaid, who has played eight Tests, 15 ODIs and three T20 Internationals, to be included in all matches irrespective of the format.

"In some ways, the way he sprints in for every ball, he reminds me of myself. I just don't understand why Pakistan keep dropping him every now and then. Junaid needs to play every format of the game for his country," Akram wrote recently.

Incidentally, it was Akram whom Lancashire director of cricket Mike Watkinson called up before the county side signed up Junaid. It was a tough call since the youngster hadn't yet played Test cricket. "Wasim himself has played for Lancashire and he did speak highly of Junaid and we signed him up. We were looking for a young fast bowler; someone with potential," says Watkinson about their June 2011 signing.

In eight Twenty20 games Junaid picked up 12 wickets and was also economical. "He had a very good yorker and that also made him an excellent death-over bowler. He could get the ball to move away but couldn't get it to swing back in. I have observed that nowadays he can move the ball both ways, which shows that he is learning fast. He reminded me of a young Wasim — a bowler with a lot of potential who would benefit from experience. At Lancashire, Junaid also got first-hand experience of how a professional team trains and practices and what it takes to be at your best day in and day out. We are keeping tabs on his career and would like to have him back," Watkinson added.

Nazar believes that Junaid will get better if he manages his fitness well. "His performances against India will be a huge boost for him. He has shown that he can handle the pressure of big-match situations," Nazar added.

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