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Mohammad Samiís celebration lacks the fist-pumping personality of a fast bowler, says the columnist.
Mohammad Samiís celebration lacks the fist-pumping personality of a fast bowler, says the columnist.

In the spirit of things, Mohammad Sami came up short

He is not in the same mould as other fast bowlers and a revival in the 31 year old's career for Pakistan will be commendable.

If Pakistanis were Greeks, they would have already written a tragedy based on the life and times of Mohammad Sami.

Here was the boy who had everything and here he is now turned into a man of nothing. Somewhere in how that turned out is a moral, about hubris probably.

Not that any of this can be taken too seriously but didn't the very birth of Sami feel like some kind of appropriate response to Pakistan's fixation with (and subsequently excessive glorification of) really fast bowling?

You want pace, eh, asked the scriptwriters? Take it, and take all the misfortune of the world with it, take military dictators, death, poverty, terrorism, corruption, the decadent glories of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, the waste of Shoaib Akhtar.

And then take Sami.

Take this spry specimen, lean, athletic, quick, level-headed and see him fail and be done with it, cursed to death by the frustration of never knowing why he never made it.

This is not to overly dramatise Sami (well, maybe a little). But he will always hold that kind of permanent and mythical educational space for Pakistanis, a lesson in life of how so much bounty can sometimes be so hollow or the understanding of how fragile history is.

As it has done irregularly after the first sustained burst of Sami, between 2002 and 2006, Pakistan ignores all this and revisits the idea of Sami.

The ODI he played against Sri Lanka in Pallekele last week was his first in over five years. He is back in the Test squad as well so he may soon be playing his third Test in nearly half a decade.

And watching him again was like happening upon something so fresh, some zingy new kid with pace and who can swing balls and is exciting and, wait, here we are right back to when we first saw him and that is the problem; not so much that we are watching even now what we were watching then (he hasn't really grown as a bowler all that much, after all, at least internationally) but that it felt exciting to be watching it again.

It would be so much more fulfilling and complete if blame could be apportioned somewhere easy and definite, so that we could properly rue Sami.

Mohammad Zahid, who was seriously quick, can be rued because he did his back in and because the subsequent rehabilitation was mismanaged.

Mohammad Amir can be too because of Mazhar Majeed and Salman Butt; Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, because of themselves.

If only there was something for Sami, just so there could be an end (the injustice of granting him Kamran Akmal as a wicketkeeper doesn't count because that injustice was served to all of Pakistan's bowlers).

So, against our better sense reasons must be found, because there must be reasons, just that they are not immediately available on the surface.

There had always been technical talk of a problematic wrist position. Then became clearer a certain guilelessness in operation: he bowled full, fast and straight when he debuted and just the other night, he was still bowling predominantly full, fast and straight.

Most top bowlers can seek and control swing; to Sami it comes and goes as randomly as the moods of a child. There has been no smoothening of edges, no sharpening of skills, no real development of repertoire.

But what has always seemed the most reasonable assessment is that though he may be a fast bowler by profession, he isn't one by spirit. Frank Tyson once wrote that "To bowl quick is to revel in the glad animal action; to thrill in physical prowess and to enjoy a certain sneaking feeling of superiority over the other mortals who play the game."

Let alone revelling in it, Sami has many times not even looked comfortable with the fact that he is a fast bowler, that he is employed to be angry, mischievous, cold-hearted, clinical and heartless or just a force of nature.

If fast bowling can also be taken to be a release of personality, then Sami has instead tried to create a personality. The fist pumping, the rushes of adrenalin, the celebrating of wickets can look as if he will let the moment overtake him, then suddenly remembered he shouldn't, but has then compromised and continued, restrained for fear of looking really foolish and abrupt; the unsure, uncertain eyes always give it away.

Who knows, maybe he just has not wanted it as much. Pakistan is not short of players who run pretty little campaigns to get back into the side every time they are dropped; pursuing the media, getting in touch with selectors, seeking a meeting with the board chairman, running into the coach, getting former players to speak up for you.

Sami does not work that way which is commendable, but does it also say that it doesn't hurt him as it does others to be excluded from the national side?

Maybe; with Sami there is never an answer, only another question. He is back for now just when Pakistan would not mind another fast bowler to help out.

It is likelier he won't be that man than that he will, just going by his track record.

If he does do it, at 31, it will be scarcely believable though not impossible. If he does not, then we still won't know why.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE & Osman Samiuddin @OsmanSamiuddin

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