Kamran the batsman impresses, again
"Do ladkon ko wahaan lagaaiye. Hitein maarni hai (Put two boys there [on the boundary], I want to hit)," Kamran Akmal told a member of the Pakistan support staff during practice on Sunday at the quaint Moors Sports Club ground in Colombo. Boys duly in place at a sort of deep midwicket, Kamran proceeded to swing throwdowns with all his might towards them. Thwack, thwack, thwack … the noise resonated around the ground. Moments earlier, Kamran had batted against Umar Gul, Mohammad Sami and Sohail Tanvir in the nets. And driven and lofted them repeatedly onto the green roof of the pavilion. Thunk, thunk, thunk … the balls crashed onto the metal roof. And yes, before you wonder, Kamran did spend time practising stumping off the spinners.
The following day, it rained hitein again, six of them sailing over the boundary as Kamran's unbeaten 92 off 50 balls carried Pakistan from 91 for 5 to the target of 186 against India with nearly an over to spare. Yet again, Kamran Akmal had changed a game with the bat. Yet again, the feeling in many quarters would have been: 'As if that changes anything.'
It is Kamran's lot that he happens to be a wicketkeeper as well, and to put it mildly, a very mercurial one. It is his lot that his batting shows are reduced to a footnote when his keeping takes centrestage on one of its off days, of which there are plenty. Even today, a largely safe day behind the stumps, he did not even attempt to go for a Virender Sehwag outside edge, looking instead at Mohammad Hafeez at slip as the ball flew between them.
How Kamran must wish he could have had the same poise and confidence in his keeping as he has when he bats. He knows he is in the side as a keeper only because he can create more impact with the bat compared to the replacements Pakistan have tried over the past year-and-half. Even if you hate Kamran the gloveman, even if you revel in dark Kamran-wicketkeeping jokes, you are bound to be moved by his batting skills. The way he drives through cover - a harmony of foot movement, balance and bat swing. The way he latches onto anything remotely short and cuts it violently. The way he bursts out of that semi-crouched stance and swats sixes. Umar Akmal does that too. It could be an Akmal thing.
Pakistan's World Twenty20 squad has been criticised for having four openers in Hafeez, Kamran, Nasir Jamshed and Imran Nazir. On today's evidence, and on the evidence of the recent T20I series against Australia in the UAE, having Kamran bat down at No. 4 may not be a bad ploy at all. One, it ensures there is a lot of experience at that crucial position in the middle order. Two, it means slightly less responsibility for the trigger-happy Umar Akmal. Three, it could help in successfully keeping the likes of Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq for the end overs.
Kamran hasn't batted so low down the order in a T20I since October 2008, but having been out of favour for various reasons after the 2011 World Cup, he seems to be happy to just be back in the side. He is ready to do what the team requires.
An asking-rate of above eleven confronted him today, and he had the last recognised batsman in the first XI, Shoaib Malik, for company. The way he went about dismantling the India bowlers, he might as well have been opening in the first innings of the game. It was clean, unrestrained, pressure-free hitting.
Except that the pressure was there. It may have been a warm-up game, but before that, it was an India-Pakistan match. You want to do anything but lose an India-Pakistan match. Then again, Pakistan lost tamely to India in a warm-up game before the 2009 World Twenty20, and went on to win the tournament.
Warm-up or not, though, the Kamran keeping jokes had long vanished from the media box as the man almost single-handedly defeated India. Now, if the keeping too holds up for a few games, Kamran jokes won't make an appearance for the rest of the tournament. For, you see, there are no Kamran batting jokes. And there probably never will be.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo