As Pakistan and Sri Lanka played out a hugely entertaining first day of the last test at Pallekele, one bowler stood head and shoulders above everyone else, despite bowling only six overs. Step forward Junaid Khan, the latest left-arm bowler from Pakistan who has grown up idolizing Wasim Akram.
Junaid continuously beat the bat of both openers, before getting the wicket of Dinesh Chandimal who look liked a deer caught in the headlights throughout his stay at the crease against some quality seam and swing bowling. Getting the wicket of a bonafide modern day great such as Kumar Sangakkara, in the same over three balls later, was equal to watching a work of art unfold before your eyes.
Sangakkara looked completely clueless against Junaid. One has to bear in mind, that Sangakkara had scored 199 in 192 in the previous two tests and was full of confidence. The very first ball Junaid had him trapped on the crease with a vicious in-dipper. The second ball angled straight and then pitched in, and with DRS Sangakkara would have been gone then and there. Junaid didn't have to wait long. The very next ball he invited Sangakkara to come forward and then swung the ball back in to take the off stump. Sangakkara was simply bamboozled. In fact when the next modern-day great came in, skipper Mahela Jayawardene, he simply refused to play a front-foot shot of any kind against Junaid in the six balls he faced.
On a quality test match wicket, which is what a seaming and swinging pitch should be recognized as, Junaid was simply unplayable. However, praising the conditions does a disservice to Junaid Khan's brilliant bowling.
It is a huge tragedy that two years on from the spot-fixing scandal many fans and pundits alike still lament the loss of Mohammed Amir's bowling talent. In addition, England being completely bamboozled by the spin of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, ensured that the limelight went to the spin twins.
Junaid Khan is a serious bowler and has been so for quite some time now. After scalping those 2 wickets by close of play, Junaid's average is now 27. Of course, it is still too early to make strong judgements about the youngster's career. However, the statistics only tell part of the story. To get 5 wickets for 73, in the bowlers graveyard known as the SSC is unparalleled compared to any fast bowler in the modern game. His first 5-wicket haul against Sri Lanka was in Abu Dhabi, hardly a bastion of fast bowling feats. It stands to reason that for a fast bowler so young to deliver performances of such magnitude on subcontinent pitches, he possesses excellent control and more importantly game intelligence.
Even during his spell with Lancashire in the summer of 2011, Junaid performed well above the standards initially expected of him. He adapted to the English conditions brilliantly, displaying poise and control during the few county games he played, and delivering some match-winning spells in the Friends Life t20. Varying his skills from the long form of the game, Junaid became an expert at bowling in the blockhole, spearing unplayable yorkers at pace. An example of how good an exponent Junaid can be of the yorker can be seen in this match-winning performance against Northants.
If Pakistan are to win the last test match and square the series against Sri Lanka in Pallekele, Junaid will probably have a huge say in the game. Looking further than the context of this series, Junaid is probably going to be Pakistan's most potent weapon in future series. His mastery of Sri Lankan conditions will surely mean he will have a role to play in the World Twenty20, and the next test series for Pakistan is in South Africa. Those conditions might not bring the best out of Saeed Ajmal. In that context, his ability to swing and seam with the new ball allied with devastating reverse swing off the old ball, puts Junaid Khan in pole position to take wickets and lead the bowling attack for Pakistan for the series against the South Africans and many more to come.