April 16, 2013

'You can't fight with people every day to convince them'

Kamran Akmal talks about being relegated to the fringe, and life after Sydney

Do you count how many catches you've dropped?
The media does. They love doing it. [Laughs]

Dropping one always puts extra pressure, so you quickly have to bring yourself back into the game and think ahead instead of counting or remembering them. But at the start of the day you never want to drop any chances.

Did you always want to be a keeper?
Yes, I chose it myself after everyone around me at my club [Cricket Centre] encouraged me to do so. I started keeping wicket around the age of 13-14. I played my first international fixture for Pakistan Under-15 against Australia in England as a wicketkeeper-batsman.

What's it like being a wicketkeeper?
There was a time when wicketkeeping was perceived as a thankless job. But, especially after 2000, I think the role of a wicketkeeper was extended with players like [Adam] Gilchrist and [Mark] Boucher, who have taken the role to a different height. Now a wicketkeeper is one of the most important players in the team.

It's not about just keeping, he needs to motivate the team, and he is a symbol of energy. He is the one who remains on his toes every single ball and talks to the bowler with his eyes without losing his own concentration. And he has another role to play as a batsman.

You last played Test cricket back in 2010. Do you miss it?
I am missing it because it's the format that gives you ample time to express yourself and your abilities. I am enjoying playing limited-overs series but there is always a sense of emptiness without playing Test cricket. I have delivered in the past in the format and I'm eager to do it again, but it's a decision the selectors have to make. I was actually dropped and I know the place is still unsettled.

You have a better batting average than some of the finest former wicketkeepers in Pakistan.
I think for a wicketkeeper-batsman, the batting average must be around 30 to 35. I have dropped my average after 2011 and it's mainly because of the fluctuations in the batting order. It's easy to maintain your average once you play a certain number of Tests for at least one complete year.

The selectors say there is no real competitor at the domestic level to replace you in limited-overs. Many wicketkeepers have been tried after 2010 but none have settled in.
Like I said before, the role of a wicketkeeper has extended now. The selectors are looking at picking a batsman-wicketkeeper, and maybe they think I am the one who can live up to their expectations. But obviously a day will come when I will call it a day and someone will be ready to take my place.

It's always tricky to replace a senior player in the team. Some ten years back I took over from Rashid [Latif] and Moin bhai [Khan]. I had to work extra hard to step into their shoes.

Is there anyone around who is a threat to your place?
It's my brother Adnan who I am afraid of. He has shown glimpses of being a good wicketkeeper-batsman.

Does the Sydney Test still haunt you?
I think it somehow changed the direction of my career. I was pushed back and it's like starting my career again. I always insisted that it was purely a day of bad luck, and it can happen with every player, any day, any time, in any match. It was surely among the worst days of my career - nothing I did was going my way. I crumbled under pressure.

Can you share with us how it felt then?
I had a sense of loneliness, and those missed chances were uppermost in my head. Obviously everyone was disappointed. I was disappointed because we had a great chance to beat Australia on their home soil. In such a scenario, you want the day to pass as quick as possible so that you can start a fresh day with a fresh state of mind, leaving the bad day behind.

"My family and cricket board know I am clean and that's what matters. It's a culture here - people believe what they hear, and things spread. Nobody is guilty until proven guilty, so if anyone has any proof against me, come up"

Is that the biggest regret of your cricket career so far?
It is. I always wish I could go back in the past to change it but it's something you have to take with you throughout your life. It really shook my confidence.

There has been plenty of whispering about match-fixing related to you.
Nothing has been proved against me ever, and I am here representing my country. My family and cricket board know I am clean and that's what matters. It's a culture here - people believe what they hear, and things spread. Nobody is guilty until proven guilty, so if anyone has any proof against me, come up.

I chose cricket, I worked hard in the blazing sun to get to the top. I can't think about getting mixed up in match-fixing stuff. I am loyal to my profession and my country. Representing Pakistan is the greatest feat I have achieved. I only urge fans to please respect players and let them concentrate on their cricket.

These stories are probably the reason your career is in the shadows?
Look, there are certain things that are beyond my control. It took my whole life to build a reputation, but such allegations affect your career in seconds. I have played more than 50 Test matches, nearly 150 ODIs so far, and if my body allows me I can play for five to six more years. The only thing I can do is play hard and perform for the team. Disappointment is there in a corner of the heart, but then that's life and you have to live with it. You can't fight with people every day to convince them.

You have played some memorable match-winning innings for Pakistan, like in Mohali, Karachi, Kolkata
These were the finest innings of my career but I want to win more matches for the country. I don't need to prove anything to anyone as I have delivered on so many occasions, and it shows that I have the ability. Obviously you learn every day and improve yourself. I had a good South Africa series and playing up the order really helped me regain my confidence.

Who is the best bowler you have kept to in international cricket?
I enjoyed keeping to Danish Kaneria, but I started having difficulties collecting against him. Collecting off a legspinner is ideal, since the ball spins away from the batsman outside off, with a clear view for the keeper. But after the Australia tour [2009-10], my confidence was shaken. Still, Kaneria was one of the best men to keep to.

How about collecting off Saeed Ajmal? Does he signal before bowling a doosra?
Not at all. I never had a problem reading him. The good thing about Ajmal is his length. I know he won't be bowling a bad ball. But I have to be extra careful while keeping to him because most of his deliveries have the potential to take a wicket. So I am always watchful.

Do you sledge from behind the stumps?
Not really. I prefer focusing on my wicketkeeping and avoid talking too much. I and Ishant [Sharma] had an altercation once, but that was in the heat of the moment. Otherwise we are good friends.

How do you want to be remembered?
It's a matter purely in god's hands. I have worked very hard in life, but especially after the Sydney Test life became difficult and I had to start from scratch amid false allegations. Eventually your hard work pays off.

I want to go down in history as a successful player.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets here