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Junaid finds redemption on return

What Junaid Khan needed, especially when he was returning from injury and was then out of the team, was a little more TLC Getty Images

Where's Junaid Khan?

Well, he twisted his knee in a fielding drill in October 2014. Then, curse his luck, once recovered he slipped and was out again, missing the 2015 World Cup; he was part of the squad for the 2011 World Cup but didn't play a single game.

If he hadn't injured his knee though, something else might have given way. From the time he began his international career, right after the 2011 World Cup, to the time he played his last international before the injury, the only Pakistani with more overs, across formats, under his belt was Saeed Ajmal. Only six fast bowlers around the world bowled more in that time, and none had to do it for as long on surfaces and outfields as unforgiving. He was in the process of being bowled into the ground.

So where's Junaid Khan?

They said he had lost a bit of nip, a bit of that something that nobody can satisfactorily describe better other than that it is a little extra some bowlers get off the surface, a skid, a bit of cut, something, anything that makes them appear a little quicker and more dangerous than the speed gun says. Most likely that wicked whip in his wrist as he released the ball generated it.

But it was gone, they said. When he returned, he looked like he had lost everything. He was hammered here, there and everywhere. There was no nip, no swing, nothing off the surface, just some very tired-looking deliveries. Not everyone thought he was finished. Some just felt he needed a bit of time to regain that verve.

Again, where's Junaid Khan?

Not playing much first-class cricket that's for sure. Since being dropped by Pakistan before the start of the 2015-16 domestic season, Junaid played in five Quaid-e-Azam trophy games over two seasons, out of a possible 20. You might think a player wanting to get back in to the side would do more of that.

But it wasn't entirely his fault. He'd been around Pakistan A squads, playing in the UAE and there was a lot of T20 cricket in the meantime (37 games, in fact). In August last year he got so angry at not being considered for selection he complained on Twitter. He said he hadn't been allowed by the board to play in T20 leagues or county cricket. Pakistan cut him from their central contracts list, but granted him permission to play in the Bangladesh Premier League.

A guy's got to make a living, and nobody knows that better than a Pakistan cricketer hung in the purgatory between being a current cricketer or a former.

Look, just tell us where's Junaid Khan?

Not playing for England, that much was clear. Remember not long ago, those bizarre reports surfaced that Junaid was so annoyed at not being selected he was thinking of settling in England, where his wife's family lives? He shut those down pretty quickly.

Great, fine, but where's Junaid Khan?

Being a managing director for 'Suits Me'. You read that right: Pakistan fast bowler Junaid Khan, managing director for a Pakistani clothing retail brand mostly found in the UK. A guy's got to make a living right?

Stop kidding around - where's Junaid Khan?

Overcoming a terrible personal tragedy. Last year, he and his wife lost their first child during birth. Forget careers, these are things that can unhinge a life.

Please, where's Junaid Khan?

Developing a bit of a sulk apparently, the kind almost all Pakistani fast bowlers carry along almost as a legitimate bowling variation. We used to think Junaid, of all Pakistan's fast bowlers, was a fairly straightforward, simple guy. You know what? Who is straightforward? Nobody. Even Umar Gul has thrown the occasional strop. Every being is complicated and it turned out Junaid was too, and why not? It would've been weirder if he didn't, given what his career had gone through.

What he needed, especially when he was returning from injury and was then out of the team, was a little more TLC; somebody to tell him that he was still part of their plans and would remain there, somebody to make him feel a little special. He's a fast bowler - they need caring.

Man, where's Junaid Khan?

Well, ok, fine. Mohammad Amir.

You what?

You heard: Mohammad Amir, the boy-man this boy-man was supposed to replace. Junaid replaced him alright and he did more - he became a balm to that wound. And then Amir came back. He waltzed back actually, his return fast-tracked. Some players didn't like that and said so, but they weren't the ones under direct threat of his return.

Nobody asked Junaid what he felt. How do you think he must have felt, striving, sweating, straining, bleeding to get back in the side and here's this guy, five years out, banished in jail, walking back in literally as the first name on the team sheet? This guy whose sins he worked so hard to wash away? How that must have stung.

Then Wahab Riaz came back, and Rahat Ali and Imran Khan emerged, and even Sohail Khan re-emerged and Junaid just kept slipping: in his mind he must have been one of those crabs of the bucket, unable to get out because he keeps getting pulled down by the others trying to get out.

It had to be Amir too, with whom his own career is unavoidably intertwined. They came through Under-19 cricket together pretty much, playing ten U-19 ODIs and one 'Test' together a whole decade ago. Amir took 24 wickets in those ten limited-overs games and Junaid 10. To most that made sense: Amir was the golden child and Junaid, older by over two years, just another promising young bowler. A minority thought Junaid might become the better bowler eventually. Amir did fulfill many of those early prophesies, but Junaid also eventually looked, for a long time, an equal of Amir. Sometimes - whisper this - he even looked a little better. No view has won out yet, though tortured followers of Pakistan cricket will at least be happy that there is finally, belatedly, an opportunity to put them to test.

Side by side they opened the bowling at the MCG, a belated, unexpected coming together: Junaid would not have been here but for the misfortune of Mohammad Irfan (you might well ask where Irfan is this time next year). Their first time together at senior international level; once the boy wonder and his understudy; then the usurper and his shadow; now the redeemed and the returnee.

Amir was quicker, Junaid more troublesome, left-arm fast both, different in many ways but not different like either might be to Wahab and Rahat. What was it? Their lengths perhaps, both consistently fuller, as full as you can get without being a half volley, both brave, strong and smart enough to go that full. Amir ended with one more wicket, the one that would've been Junaid's but for an umpiring error. How's that for scriptwriting? Almost as good as the one that had them both scripting Pakistan's first win in Australia on this tour, their first win against Australia in Australia in 12 years and their first at the MCG against these opponents since 1985.

Junaid's back is where he is, for now.