New Zealand 2009 November 27, 2009

Batting pretenders face instant examination


Umar Akmal's debut century rescued Pakistan from a disastrous position © Getty Images

A debut Test century is a moment of optimism, a flower about to bloom. Now that Umar Akmal has joined Pakistan’s bouquet of record-making debutants—most of those flowers have wilted quickly—expectations will soar even higher than they were already. Can young Umar be the next batting star of Pakistan cricket?

A decade’s wait underlines the misery that Pakistan fans have had to endure. Many young men have flickered briefly only for their temperament or technique to send them into oblivion. Almost every year a clutch of new prospects raise and shatter our hopes. Nobody has emerged with class enough in recent years to suggest a comparison with the legends of Pakistan’s batting history.

Even debutant century makers have a dismal record. Javed Miandad, Salim Malik, and Younis Khan the only three that have gone on to forge substantial careers. The remainder have failed to turn potential into results. Some have been aided by friendly home wickets or friendly opponents, in Yasir Hameed’s case by both—and he succeeded twice over, a century in each innings of his Test debut. Nonetheless, Pakistan must have expected better progress from these men.

Could there be something different about Umar Akmal? In just about every innings he has bristled with intent and confidence. He has a wide range of attacking strokes yet is capable of defence, comfortable against spin and pace. He has a desire to dominate, an encouraging trait. He has achieved his debut success away from Pakistan like Fawad Alam did in Sri Lanka. Indeed, New Zealand isn’t known as a happy home for Pakistan’s batsmen. Most importantly, he triumphed in adversity, rescuing a near disastrous position of 85 for 5.

These are early days. Umar Akmal will be judged over many years not a few months or even one innings. For once, however, Pakistan fans will dare to believe that a young champion has been discovered. They will also hope that Fawad will seize the opportunity thrust upon him.

Tours of Australia and England will further examine the potential of these young batsmen. But the next day’s play, chasing a difficult final innings total, will be the first genuine insight into the future capabilities of Pakistan’s new batting pretenders.

I’ll be tweeting during the first session of the final day’s play. It should be exciting. You can follow me on Twitter:

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