A man for the future
For over a decade, Pakistani wicketkeeping has been in the safe hands of two men. Moin Khan's initially awkward glovework and gutsy batting battled with Rashid Latif's niftier keeping and lesser ability with the willow. Depending on the captain and the state of injuries, these two Karachiites ensured that the issue of Pakistan's wicketkeeping remained unproblematic, and the quality high. Now, with Latif's career seemingly over, and Moin's coming towards a more natural end, Kamran Akmal steps up behind the stumps against India to reaffirm himself as Pakistan's future number one.
The 23-year-old Akmal, from Lahore, has long been touted as a potential national wicketkeeper, and his pre-World Cup debut performances in Zimbabwe and South Africa for the senior team confirmed this growing reputation. Having been picked as standby for Latif, ahead of Moin, Akmal got his chance in the first Test against Zimbabwe as Latif pulled out with back problems. Despite making a duck in his first innings, Akmal impressed first with his athletic work behind the stumps, picking up four catches. In the second innings, he displayed his unorthodox, gutsy and hard-hitting batting style with an innings of 38, studded with shots through his favorite areas square of the wicket on either side. Against a weak attack, depleted further by the absence of Heath Streak, Akmal made his first and solitary international fifty in the next game at Bulawayo, coming in at No. 7. Although he has opened at domestic and ODI level - with limited success in the latter form - it is likely that his future with the Pakistan team lies in the middle or lower order, rather than at the top.
Drafted into the team as a replacement for Moin, incapacitated with a groin strain, Akmal was ecstatic at the opportunity to face India. "There is a lot of pressure, obviously, given that it is India, but I am looking forward to the chance with great anticipation and am confident that I will perform well. Moin gave me a lot of tips and generally has been very helpful." The confidence in his abilities is shared by the Pakistan team management. Haroon Rashid, the manager, said he was not worried about Akmal playing in only his fifth Test in such a pressure situation. "He has a good temperament and he can handle the pressure. He has been in the Pakistan set-up for over a year now, he played recently against Bangladesh (in the ODI series last year as a replacement for the suspended Latif) and he will do well." Inzamam-ul-Haq, at the pre-match press conference, expressed similar sentiment.
While losing Moin - the engine, cheerleader and tactician - is a big blow to the team, the magnitude of his loss is tempered to an extent by his recent struggles with the bat. His magnificently defiant century against New Zealand notwithstanding, his form with the bat has been poor by his own high standards since his return to the team. Although his performance in the Multan Test behind the stumps was adequate, the half-chance he floored off Virender Sehwag again suggested that Moin was never picked in the team purely for his wicketkeeping abilities.
When Akmal made his debut in November 2003, with Latif on the verge of retirement and Moin nowhere in the picture, the permanency of his spot in the team seemed only a matter of time. Since then, a lot has changed in Pakistan cricket, including the captain, board, team management and the first-choice wicketkeeper. Moin, in all probability, is likely to return for the last Test, but his best days may be past him soon - and as the latest inheritor of a legacy passed on by the likes of Wasim Bari and Salim Yousuf, Akmal will still be there, biding his time.