x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Junaid finds his due under spotlight for Pakistan

The Pakistan bowler ripped through Sri Lanka this afternoon on the opening day of the first Test at the Zayed Cricket Stadium, taking five wickets.

Junaid Khan celebrates the dismissal of danger man Mahela Jayawardene, unseen, at Abu Dhabi.
Junaid Khan celebrates the dismissal of danger man Mahela Jayawardene, unseen, at Abu Dhabi.

Junaid Khan's first five-wicket haul will crank up comparisons that have shadowed him since his arrival earlier this year. The 20-year-old left-arm paceman emerged through U19 cricket with Mohammad Amir, scouts rating both equally highly at the time.

But where Amir soared as dramatically as he fell, Junaid's rise has been a steadier one. He went through the entire 2011 World Cup without playing a game and only made his Test debut in Zimbabwe last month.

But progress became steeper on the opening day of the first Test against Sri Lanka at the Zayed Cricket Stadium. Junaid ripped through Sri Lanka in the afternoon, a session that saw the visitors stumble from 50 for one to 114 for seven by tea.

The real damage came in five balls in the run-up to tea, Junaid dismissing a set Mahela Jayawardene, the wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene and Rangana Herath, one caught at slip, one bowled, one leg-before.

Inevitably he was asked about the gap left by Amir. "I will do my best to fill the void and do the best that I can for my team," he dutifully responded.

Junaid was the most dominant in a rounded Pakistan performance, after Misbah-ul-Haq had opted to field. "It isn't just one guy," Junaid said. "Umar [Gul] and Saeed [Ajmal] also bowled very well alongside Aizaz [Cheema] so it is only when we all bowl well that the team does well."

Sri Lanka clawed back ground post-tea, the impressive Angelo Mathews leading the way with an accomplished, unbeaten 52. Mathews shielded the tail smartly, picking what gaps he found, running well and attacking when allowed. He slog-swept the persevering Ajmal over midwicket once, before reverse-sweeping him for four later.

With Suranga Lakmal he added 54 and 25 with Chanaka Welegedera. But even 197, as he acknowledged, was an opportunity lost. "We lost our way in the second session and the batters did not bat well. That made a huge difference."

Mathews' hand was to be expected; this was his fourth fifty-plus score in his last five innings, including a century against Australia, a run he attributed to the work with batting coach Marvan Atapattu.

But as Pakistan's openers moved confidently to 27 without loss by day's end, the contribution's significance was lessened. The surface, subject of much debate beforehand for the amount of grass on it, did not play as expected. Junaid said there was movement in the morning, but as the day progressed it eased out considerably.

"It was a pretty good batting wicket as the day went on," Mathews said. "Whoever hit the wicket hard had a bit off a nip of the wicket. When I was batting it was coming on to the bat pretty well."


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