What's gone wrong with Kamran Akmal?
Wicketkeeping is a lonely pursuit. When the way of the world is with you, you're unlikely to be noticed. At best, if you score runs, your batting might be lauded. But if you're doing badly, even runs can't save you.
Through 2005 and the first days of 2006, Kamran Akmal was one of the best wicketkeeper-batsmen in the game. In 12 Tests in that time he made 52 dismissals and if he dropped any they were aberrations. He also hit four hundreds, averaging over 44. Life was rosy and he was Adam Gilchrist.
In 12 Tests since, he has plummeted. He still made 42 dismissals, but the mistakes have mushroomed. Against South Africa conservative estimates put him down as missing 12 chances. His batting has faded, three fifties only and averaging under 27. Gilcrhist once, he is now Pakistan's Parthiv Patel, the similarly cherubic Indian who faded so alarmingly after his debut.
What's gone wrong? Cricinfo spoke to Rashid Latif and Wasim Bari, better placed than most, to analyse the fall.
Rashid Latif: In England last summer he had a finger injury before the first Test but played on. He had a poor Test but he needed to rest thereafter. In a side game, I offered to play to give Akmal a rest but he refused.
At the back of his mind, he is worried about being dropped because he thinks he might not make it back. He is low on self-belief currently which happens to wicketkeepers. When I battled it out with Moin, we both always believed we were good enough to get back. Even when Akmal took over, I believed I could return.
Wasim Bari: He has to relax and look like he is enjoying it. As a wicketkeeper, you have to really love and enjoy what you are doing. He looks too tense at the moment and is thinking too much about his mistakes. Wicketkeepers are crucial because they lead the fielding effort, they motivate and he is missing that right now.
RL: He has some problems with his basics. To fast bowlers, his diving position and the pressure points from which he takes off are not in sync at the time of delivery. With spinners, he's getting up too early and his hands remain low.
I don't accept that he has struggled because of foreign conditions. Pakistan is a difficult place to keep wickets because of the low bounce. So when you go to a place like England, Australia or South Africa where the bounce is good, you enjoy those conditions.
WB: Ultimately, there is no one way of catching a ball. As long as you do catch consistently you are fine. But the basics have to be sound. The problem lies in his basic skills. He is not keeping his eyes on the ball, hard enough or long enough. Rather, he isn't doing it consistently enough. With the spinners he is getting up too quickly and his hands are not in the proper position.
RL: A lot of faith has been placed in his batting, for good reason. But maybe it's distracting him. I always kept in mind that my main responsibility was 'keeping. Batting was important, but as long as I wasn't missing chances I was doing my job well. The emphasis has changed recently but ultimately 'keeping is crucial to winning and losing.
WB: His main job is to keep wickets in the Test side. That is his priority. The problem is that he is a natural batsman not a natural wicketkeeper. That says it all: batting comes naturally to him, but not wicketkeeping so he has to work harder on that, to keep up his standards and to rectify faults.
RL: Drop him for the South Africa ODIs. Rest him to get him ready for the World Cup. The management is at fault by putting so much faith in him and not grooming others. Australia dropped Michael Clarke, then recalled him and he is more determined than ever. He knows he can be dropped so that spurs him on.
Other keepers should be taken along on tours, just to relieve the pressure. With technical faults I used to go back to my club and practice in nets. But if the form remains bad, then just leave cricket for 15-20 days, take a break.
WB: Maybe he needs a mentor-type figure, another senior wicketkeeper who he can work with. It doesn't have to be a world class 'keeper, just someone he can click with. Like Shane Warne with Terry Jenner.
The other thing, which isn't a bad idea, is to give him a rest for a while. As an international player, a rest is always good, especially in the middle of a bad run.
Zulqarnain Haider: Leading the race, the 20-year old is expected to debut against South Africa. Former U-19 World Cup winner, Zulqarnain has represented Pakistan at every age level and is a regular Pakistan A and Academy member.
Mohammad Salman: Faisalabad stumper, highly-rated by Latif. Made his national breakthrough last year, playing for Pakistan A in the Top End series in Australia.
Adnan Akmal: Brother of Kamran and said by many, including Kamran, to be more gifted. Hovers on the periphery of national selection and nearly debuted, by accident, in an ODI in 2004.
Amin-ur-Rehman: If Karachi were Pakistan, he would already be an international veteran, so staunch is local support. Especially good to spin and handy with the bat.
Sarfraz Ahmed: New kid on the block, he captained Pakistan to U-19 World Cup triumph last year and in his debut first-class season is attracting rave reviews. Averaging over 30, with three, mostly battling fifties, and nearly 30 victims from eight games.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo