South Africa January 22, 2007

Akmal earns a pardon

International cricket, you will have heard, is played in the mind

International cricket, you will have heard, is played in the mind. Harness your mental powers and you will leap from journeyman to superstar. Lose the mind games and your talent will become dust. Allrounders, though, have an advantage that allows them to fail in one area and star elsewhere. Of course, life is rarely so simple. Once one aspect of your game falls apart and your confidence is ruined, your second skill could easily collapse too. This might have been the case with Kamran Akmal but today's innings will be just the boost he needs to help him recover his form behind the stumps.

Far be it for me to criticise somebody called Kamran, but Akmal's performances had become something of an embarrassment, a vicious circle of failure. There were even calls for him to be dumped for the final Test. But such a panic reaction should now be impossible.

Akmal is a smart cricketer, with a natural feel for his glovework and his batsmanship. Bob Woolmer decribes him as 20% of the team. When that vital 20% fails, the team suffers. Distinguished ex-cricketers have rated him highly, and after England's tour of Pakistan last year he was thought to be one of the best in the world.

Since then Akmal has had a tough time, dismissed too easily when batting and finding it hard to dismiss anybody when he is keeping. The talent is undoubted, the mind has been crushed by failure. In these circumstances it is a credit to Pakistan's management that they have stuck with somebody who has obvious ability and, when body and mind are in harmony, is capable of mastering the toughest conditions.

Introducing Zulqarnain Haider for the final Test would have been folly. The next mouth-watering encounter is too pivotal for a rushed debut. What this series has shown so far is that the battle for number two in international cricket is a tough one, an arena for experience not exuberance. Now that Akmal has rediscovered his magic touch with the bat, better wicketkeeping should follow--and he has to do both, he is not good enough to be played as a batsman.

Welcome back Kamran Akmal, a young man crucial to the balance of this Pakistan side, and a condemned man who today he earned a pardon for any number of fumbled catches and sloppy stumpings.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here