KARACHI: The night before their 2015 World Cup game against UAE, three Pakistan players were hanging out at a coffee café a few paces away from their hotel in Napier.
The curfew cut-off was still an hour away when the trio and I were joined by Sohail Khan, after a quick re-introduction (We had met after a lapse of a couple of years and Sohail took some time to place me) I congratulated him on his five-wicket haul against India and asked him how excited he was at leading the attack at a World Cup.
To my surprise, Sohail was quite nonplussed or perhaps tired of the constant glare of a premier cricket tournament or perhaps unsure about his future beyond the tournament “Bhai Inn Ke Marzi Hai Ke Khilaen Ya Nahi, Mujhe Farq Nahi Parta, Mein Ne Apna Kaam Kardia Hai.” (It’s up to them to play me or not, I don’t care, I have done my job).”
Next morning as Pakistan made light work of the UAE side at the McLean Park, I kept thinking about the exchange with Sohail, the lanky fast-bowler who seems good enough to compete in a muscle mania competition ambled through his overs before hobbling off the field.
He recovered and played a key role in Pakistan’s best moment of the tournament —the thrilling win over South Africa at Auckland’s Eden Park —where his slow half tracker dismissed an imperious AB de Villiers to herald an improbable win after a below par batting performance.
But the euphoria was short-lived as Misbahul Haq’s team crashed out of the quarters, upon return Waqar Younis and the selectors vowed to ‘rebuild’ the team. Sohail was retained, but a serious back injury ruled him out of the Banglawash debacle on the heels of the World Cup exit.
Sohail was lodged at the NCA and a recuperation programme was initiated, but the grapevine is that he disappeared and flew back to his hometown Karachi; for once it seemed he only had himself to blame for his fall, or perhaps he didn’t care much?
“It was a painful injury and I felt it was better to spend time at home and recuperate, for a month I remained in my bed, didn’t leave the house, hardly answered phone calls and people felt I had disappeared, I spent Ramzan at home but I knew I needed the break to recover.” Sohail confirmed the ‘reports’ of the disappearance in a TV show in the summer of 2015.
During the same show, Sohail carried the look of a man who knew the roadmap, his immediate goal at that time was to claw his way back to competitive cricket, the back injury had been overcome and he had set his eyes on the 2015-16 domestic season.
Representing SSGC, Sohail snared 21 wickets in six games, not an earth shattering display by any sense as he languished in the bottom-half of the ‘most wicket-takers list.’
During the Pakistan Cup in May, Sohail was again off-colour collecting three expensive wickets in four games, but the selectors were happy that his fitness had improved and he was back in rhythm, Misbah too knew his capabilities after having overseen his World Cup campaign.
Sohail’s Test career was non-existent before Edgbaston; take a screenshot of his Espncricinfo profile which presently reads two Tests, one wicket at 245 runs per wicket, strike rate of 342— the wickets tally has already swelled to six!
Just under his Test record are his first-class numbers and the beefy wickets tally (355) is indicative of his red ball prowess.
Sohail undergoes curious training routines including walking/running while carrying teammates on his back, he is also renowned for bowling long spells that leave him ‘stiff.’
“‘Buhut stiff hai body yaar, bus na poocho.’ (My body is very stiff, please don’t ask). Inevitably, after every long spell Sohail complained about stiffness, we used to laugh at him and question how he could be stiff after bowling 20 overs, like he can be weary but how can the muscles be stiff? Then again it was Sohail and that’s how he operated.” Revealed a PQA teammate, a department Sohail served with distinction before moving over to SSGC last year.
The Pathan from Malakand started his cricket journey in Pakistan some 15 years ago; he first grabbed attention at a speed competition aimed at exploring fast bowling talent, staged at Karachi’s UBL stadium 12-14 years ago.
Sohail clocked in the high 80s and his pace and built set him apart from other trundlers and medium pacers including yours truly.
After an early disqualification due to my gentle bowling speed, I looked at Sohail with all the envy in the world, the disappointment at my own failure was too much to bear to even think of what the ‘fastest bowler in Karachi’ — Mohammad Sami was away with the national team —was capable of.
All those years later, Sohail is still around, from unsettling ill-equipped teenaged Karachi batters to dismissing Joe Root and Co at Edgbaston, Sohail has staved-off adversity at every level, it has taken him seven painfully long years to make a name in the longest format and perhaps it is as much Pakistan’s as his own loss.
The unfriendly combination of Sohail’s age — 32— and Pakistan’s haphazard Test schedule means he would be lucky to win at best 25 more caps. Not sure how stiff the body would be by then; would there be another breakdown or loss in form? Only one thing is certain, the fast bowler enveloped in a body builder’s body will keep running in.