After taking three wickets in a warm up match against England, Junaid remained on the fringes during Pakistan's World Cup campaign.
SWABI: He was reduced to a drinks-boy in the World Cup as his team-mates grappled with the top outfits for cricket supremacy. While he was, indeed, part of the 42-day extravaganza staged in the subcontinent, he could do no more than twiddle his thumb at the sidelines while the likes of Tendulkar, Steyn, Ponting, Yuvraj, Afridi, Malinga, Strauss and others made hay in the middle.
For the shy but robust youngman from Swabi — a remote district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province — these men were larger than life icons of the game he so loved. Revered by millions around the world for their ability to win a game single-handedly, many of them inspired the rookie pacer to take up cricket as a career and instilled in him the confidence to excel on the field.
He would have given his right arm to rub shoulders with these greats of the game but it was not to be. The 20-year-old Junaid Khan, however, remains undeterred by the missed opportunity. On the contrary, he appears hungrier than ever to fill his wicket-bag. “I have no regrets because I know my time will come,” says Junaid as he lumbers up during a training session at a local club. “I was not there in the original World Cup squad remember, but Sohail’s (Tanvir) injury gave me the opportunity to be part of the prestigious event and I learnt a lot.”
“I feel richer in experience after being part of such a huge event. I am motivated and the techniques I have learnt from my seniors are bound to serve me better in the future.”
To say that the young fast bowler didn’t make his mark at all during the mega event will be not be entirely correct. Junaid, in fact, made the critics sit-up in Pakistan’s warm-up game in Dhaka against the formidable England side when he bowled at a fair pace with swing and control to return fine figures of 3-44 in eight overs.
England batsmen, riding on the back of their Ashes triumph, were never comfortable against Junaid who clean bowled the opposition’s best batsman Jonathan Trott for 9 on an absolute ripper of a delivery besides snapping up wicketkeeper Matt Prior and fast bowler Tim Bresnan.
Former England player David Lloyd, admiring Junaid’s skills, said he reminded him of Mohammad Aamir and the world could shortly witness yet another sensational young fast bowler from Pakistan.
The left-armer’s show in the warm-up was a testament to his immense potential as a front-ranking pacer as his more experienced teammates Shoaib Akhtar, Wahab Riaz and Saeed Ajmal were shown scant respect by Strauss and Co on a placid Dhaka pitch.
“I enjoyed bowling on the Dhaka pitch that morning,” recalled Junaid. “After a few wayward overs, I found my rhythm and getting Trott on a Yorker length ball made my day. But the wicket I would really want to get is that of Tendulkar’s, he is a real master,” says the Swabi lad who represented Abbottabad Falcons with aplomb in the Faysal Bank Cup Twenty20 event last year.
Since making his first class debut in January 2007 at the age of 16 for Abottabad, Junaid has gone from strength to strength in domestic cricket. His record prior to the World Cup read as 167 wickets from just 35 matches, a prolific run by any standards. He also put up a fine show for Pakistan A matches.
As he prepared for his departure to Islamabad to meet the Prime Minister in an official function arranged for the World Cup squad, Junaid said he was confident of making his mark on the tour of the West Indies next month. “I hope that I would get an opportunity to perform at the international level for my country on the forthcoming tour,” he said. “I am fully focused about this West Indies tour and really looking forward to doing well there. I am fully fit and realize my responsibilites as a fast bowler now that Shoaib bhai, Aamir and Asif aren’t available,” said Junaid.
“I have seen and heard a lot about some of the West Indian players, specially Darren Bravo and Pollard. They are very talented,” said the athletically built pacer. “Of course (Chris) Gayle and (Shivnarine) Chanderpaul are big names and I am excited about facing them on the upcoming tour.”