November 28, 2011

The riddle that is Umar Akmal

Given his talent, he ought to be the next in Pakistan's batting pantheon, but he has flattered to deceive, producing flashy shots and the occasional match-winning fifty

Even before he had made his international appearance, Umar Akmal had the air of an accomplished cricket hero. He walked with a strut, stiffened his chest when shaking hands, and had this way of looking past you as he talked. If you didn't know better, you might assume he had won the World Cup for his country or made a double-hundred in Australia.

Although his initial performances seemed to justify this conceit, there is a growing sense that Akmal is squandering his talent. His Test average, sitting pretty at 55.50 after five matches, has trailed off to 35.82 after 16, getting him axed from the Test squad. And while his ODI and T20 numbers have held up more strongly, a habit of throwing his wicket away suggests he can do so much better.

His fluent innings of 91 in the second ODI of the recent series against Sri Lanka is emblematic of his temperament. There he was, unbeaten on 79, playing a steady hand, with Pakistan needing another 86 from 76 balls. An unbroken sixth-wicket stand was prospering with Sarfraz Ahmed. On the next three deliveries, Akmal stroked three brilliant boundaries, then sent a catch straight down the throat of mid-on. The chase faltered, and Pakistan lost.

After his dismissal Akmal refused to remove his pads, and struck a distraught pose, sitting on the pavilion steps. When TV cameras brought him into view, his eyes darted self-consciously between the camera and the stadium screen. In its own way it was a fine example of grandstanding. Umar comes from a family of seven brothers, two of whom, Kamran and Adnan, are also playing for Pakistan. They grew up in an area that is as quintessentially Lahore as Lahore can get. Grandstanding is something Akmal probably knows a thing or two about.

Had he kept his cool, Pakistan's scoreline in this series would almost certainly have read 5-0 instead of 4-1. He made amends with a match-winning 61 not out in the final ODI, but it just underscored what he is capable of. As a batsman he is technically complete, possessing the skill to play orthodox and unorthodox shots all around the wicket with equal flair and command. Seasoned observers have even compared him to a young Javed Miandad, but there is an irksome flamboyance about him that seems to be getting in the way of him realising his true potential.

The Akmals grew up in an area that is as quintessentially Lahore as Lahore can get. Grandstanding is something Umar probably knows a thing or two about

Suspicions that he might have feigned injury once or twice haven't helped his reputation. Most famously this happened after last year's Sydney Test between Australia and Pakistan, when Kamran Akmal's disastrous wicketkeeping got him the chop. Almost on cue, Umar opted out of the next game, complaining of a side strain. He did eventually play, after being talked out of what many felt was a mistaken show of solidarity with his brother.

At times he seems quite an enigma, making it difficult to get inside his head. A particularly puzzling example is his batting on the final day of the ill-fated Lord's Test between England and Pakistan last year. The spot-fixing news had exploded, and the air was thick with controversy and stigma. Pakistan, following on after collapsing for 74 in the first innings, were going through the last rites in an atmosphere that was overwhelmingly funereal. In these dying spasms, when no one could focus on cricket and wickets fell steadily at the other end, Akmal chose to smash an unbeaten 79 from 68 balls, with 11 fours and two sixes. Was it a show of defiance, an opportunity to make some quick runs, or an attempt to save face for his team? He certainly kept people guessing.

Beneath this exasperating exterior is a rich core of talent and ambition, and every now and then it expresses itself to the delight of fans and critics alike. There are, for example, his eight Man-of-the-Match awards, some of which came from efforts that left a mark - the careful 44 not out against Australia in the 2011 World Cup, made after the top order was gone; the tenacious fifty against South Africa in last year's World Twenty20; the unbeaten 102 from 72 balls against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2009, in only his third ODI. And although he has yet to win a match award in Test cricket, he did mark his Test debut, two years ago in Dunedin, with an attractive 129 and 75.

Pakistani fans are still looking for an heir to their august batting lineage, which starts with Hanif Mohammad, consolidates through Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, and Inzamam-ul-Haq, and continues in the current era with Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan. Umar Akmal has all the talent to be next in line, but so far he has shown little evidence that he grasps the art of accumulating runs or possesses the psychological secrets of longevity at the crease. He must understand that true batting greatness is not a matter of destiny but of discipline, diligence, desire, and dedication. Far more is required than just flashy shots and the occasional match-winning fifty.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 30, 2011, 21:14 GMT

    i want to see him in test matches to

  • Dummy4 on November 30, 2011, 17:42 GMT

    UMAR AKMAL is really a special talent but he seems to be miss guided......................and I DONT UNDERSTAND why he is given the batting in @5 ..or later it's almost with the tail.............. why not they move him up the order like @no.3 or 4...........

  • Dummy4 on November 30, 2011, 17:22 GMT

    the way Pakistan uses him is the real deal. i remember in 3rd odi when Pak were 150/0 and when first wicket fell down, Abdul Razzaq was sent it. instead Umar should have been sent because the platform was well set. when another wicket fell, YK came in, and only after Razzaq fell, Umar was sent in, by that time there were 3 down, around the same score, and then pressure got the better of Umar and he perished. he is an attacking player, and in modern cricket, players like watson, sehwag, dilshan, de villiers, all represent top order, and even raina kohli are sent at 4 or 5.

  • Dummy4 on November 29, 2011, 22:07 GMT

    I think Akmal has been mishandled specially in Afridi era when he was kindof playing as a hitter. His batting number is way too low for him to average higher although he has one of the best current batting averages for Pakistan ( ODI & T20). I do not know why Mr Saad seems so naive about Akmal as I believe that he is doing a wonderful job and to polish him is the responsibility of the team management. They have a gem in their hands and they are not using him properly. There has not been a greater match winner than Inzi to play for Pakistan and I think Umar should learn from him how he played in tight situations but I strongly believe that he should bat at 3. Amazing talent but misused !!!

  • Dummy4 on November 29, 2011, 15:40 GMT

    hope he'll do better in tests too

  • Dummy4 on November 29, 2011, 15:05 GMT

    No Azhar ali can't rotate strike so he should pe preserved for Tests only... Bring Fawad for test or in One day as an all rounder... He can be more useful than Malik...

  • Anwar on November 29, 2011, 14:58 GMT

    averaging 39.7 in odi's..... does not seem like a real probleme for me.... u can always expect maturity with age and experience which will improve his stats. if u look at his footwork against spinners and range of shots against quickeys, this man definitely has the talent. unorthadox and silly methods of getting out???? well thats how he score his runs..... so i dont have any issue, getting out in tense situations??? well thats how i often notice that he often shifts pressure from his side to the other...... and not only makes batting easy for himself but also the non striker, but yes in such approach, u are doomed to loose the way some times and succedd on other occassions, when he is successful it looks great, but if some times not, it looks ugly.... but i dont have problem with this, u need to have 1/2 impact players who can trnsfer the pressure onto the opponents. yes a little shot selection is needed which i hope he'll do with experience. best wishes for the man!!

  • Abrar on November 29, 2011, 14:24 GMT

    Simply he is aggressive player and and that was his aggression which brought Pakistan very close to victory in 2nd ODI vs Srilanka. I believe that he is good player to bat at No 3 as he plays attacking cricket and that approach can easily put the opposition under pressure. He is superb player of fast bowling as well as Spin bowling. Definitely He will take some time to get Mature. No doubt about that He is talented and enthusiastic and along career is ahead of him. Best of Luck Umer...

  • Owais on November 29, 2011, 13:56 GMT

    As of now, there is nothing to convince me that he is destined for greatness. He is just a an above average batsmen with good stroke playing abilities. He is in the same league as Mohammad Hafeez (the batsmen), Asad Shafique and Azhar Ali...Dont take me wrong, all of them are good but not great. If a batsmen does not convert his 30s and 40s into 80's and 100's, then he is not a match winner. As simple as that.

  • INDIKA on November 29, 2011, 13:28 GMT

    I am a Sri Lankan and was watching the entire series here in UAE. Umar is special tallent for sure.Its up to PCB to handle him in such a way that he wont loose his forcus like the other talented pakistani cricketers who promised a lot but miss guided along the way by some one and ended up sitting at home when he should have been in the middle performing well for Pakistan and winning matches. When you look at the past 20-30 years....Pakistan has produced more talented cricketrs than any other nation but where are they now? only very few has sustained and kept a place in the side. See the situation of Afridi? he retired pre matually and look at the way he perfomed in his come back...thanks to changing of the management. if the management did not changed....Afridi wouldn't have any opportunity to show his tallents. Like this so many has vanished in to thin air. Saqlain Mushtaq/ Azar Maumood are recent ones along with so many others. Even mohamed Yousuf had another two more years in him.

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