From Pakistan’s Strike Bowler to Not Good Enough for Domestic Cricket. Was Junaid Khan Hard-Done By?
Many people raised eyebrows when Junaid Khan was dropped from the Pakistan Cup, the domestic ODI tournament, and then wasn’t picked up by any team during the PSL draft. Some called it unjustifiable; others called in a vendetta against him. There was news in the media that selectors’ behavior had so hurt Junaid Khan that he had decided to leave Pakistan. But does he really warrant a spot in the teams? Or has he really been mistreated? If yes, why? If not, what has gone wrong for him? Let’s go back a little.
Virender Sehwag, Bowled! Virat Kohli, castled! Yuvraj Singh, cleaned up! Rohit Sharma bamboozled by an outswinger and caught at slip!
This is the summary of one of the best fast bowling spells in limited-overs cricket against India in India. The day was 30th December 2012, and the bowler was Junaid Khan, who had left India reeling at 29/5 within the first ten overs, with figures of 5 overs, 1 maiden, 12 runs, and 4 wickets.
This was Junaid Khan’s introduction to world cricket. Next year, 2013, was the year when Junaid Khan truly made his mark on the cricketing scene. A skiddy bowler bowling in speeds of mid-140s, swinging the ball when it was new, reversing it when the ball got old, he ended the year with 52 wickets in just 28 ODIs. His first 14 test matches brought 50 wickets, including four five-fers, and it looked like Pakistan had finally found the replacement of Mohammad Amir, who had been banned for five years due to the spot-fixing scandal.
But in October 2014, Junaid Khan slipped. He recovered but then slipped again. He had to miss the 2015 Cricket World Cup due to that injury and made another recovery, but now he was not the Junaid Khan of 2012-13, he could not recover mentally; his pace was now in the mid-130s, sometimes even falling into the 120s, and he forgot how to swing the ball.
Although many other bowlers had emerged during this time – Sohail Khan and Wahab Riaz were part of the team again, Mohammad Irfan, Imran Khan, Rahat Ali were there too, and even Muhammad Amir came back into the team – but it was largely due to his inconsistent performance and ineffectiveness that Junaid Khan was dropped from the team and for a couple of years, looked like he was forgotten.
In early 2017, he was belatedly recalled into the team for the tour of Australia, mostly due to the unavailability of Mohammad Irfan, and figures of 40/2 in 8 overs during Pakistan’s first ODI victory in Australia for 12 years proved he could still do it. His performances were not outstanding, but he got a consistent run in the side and was included for the Champions Trophy in England.
Initially, he wasn’t part of the XI, but due to Pakistan’s horrendous show against India, he was recalled into the team against South Africa for the all-important match. The Pakistan team’s fortunes changed during this match, and Junaid Khan picked up 2/53 from his nine overs. He played an important role in the decider against Sri Lanka in the next game with figures of 3/40 from his full quota. This performance was backed up by 2/42 in the semi-final against England and 1/20 from 6 overs in the final against India as he helped Pakistan win their first major title after ten years.
It looked like Junaid Khan had turned a new leaf, but it must be said he did not get proper chances after that. Even after his comeback, he was never recalled to the Pakistan Test squad, a format where he had excelled. This might sound strange, but the fact is he had barely played any four-day cricket domestically. His focus was more on the shorter format, especially T20 leagues.
After playing the ODI series against Sri Lanka in October, where he actually didn’t perform too badly, he was dropped for the New Zealand tour. He then made a comeback for the Zimbabwe tour in mid-2018 and was part of the team for the Asia Cup but only played one match against Bangladesh where he picked up 4 wickets for just 19 runs from his 9 overs, his best ODI performance for years.
In Junaid’s defense, it must be said that his performances were not at all poor ever since he became part of the team for the Australian tour. Sure, his performances weren’t outstanding, but he had been consistent with 33 wickets in 24 matches before being dropped. It was his last five matches in 2019 just before the World Cup that brought only six wickets at an average of 53.33 while he gave away runs at a rate of 6.95/over, which cost him a place in the squad for the 2019 World Cup. He has never played for Pakistan ever since.
If we keep emotions and the traditional cries of biasness against Junaid Khan aside, we can easily see that his performances haven’t been up to the mark.
During the last PSL season, he was picked for just three matches by Multan Sultans, where he got just three wickets at an economy rate of 9.5. In the 2019 Pakistan Cup, he played just two games and picked up only two wickets before being benched by his domestic team Sindh due to below-par performances. He picked up ten wickets in the eight T20 matches he played during the National T20 Cup last year at an economy rate of 8.80 and was 12th on the list of most wicket-takers. In the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, he was dropped after the first two matches, where he picked up just three wickets.
With the emergence of so many young fast bowlers on the scene, you could see why he wasn’t picked up any franchise. While you could debate his selection in the domestic tournament and that he could have been selected based on his seniority, dropping him is still defensible because he hasn’t been up to the mark recently.
As sad as it sounds, the fact is, unfortunately, at the age of 31, Junaid Khan is not the bowler he once was. You could see he really tries hard; he has the passion and wants to do well, but the nip in his bowling is no more, the ball has forgotten how to in-swing when he bowls, the pace is even lower than before, and what makes matters worse is that time is not on his side anymore.
He isn’t the good old Junaid Khan anymore, and to be very honest, he hasn’t been… since the day he slipped while fielding, back in 2014.