March 28, 2014

Umar Akmal's limited-overs exploits

The ability to play strokes all round the wicket against different types of bowlers makes him a high-value player in T20s and ODIs

In his first four innings in Test cricket, Umar Akmal notched up scores of 129, 75, 46 and 52; in his second and third innings in ODIs, he scored 66 and 102 not out, both at faster than a run a ball; in his debut innings in Twenty20 internationals he made 30 off 20, and then followed that with 56 not out off 49 in his third innings. Akmal has taken quickly to whatever format he has played, and his proclivity for strokeplay and scoring quickly has shone through in each of the formats: three of his first four innings in Tests came at a strike rate of more than 80.

He hasn't always done justice to his immense talent in Tests, though: since his debut in November 2009, Akmal has played only 16 Tests at an average of 35.82, and hasn't added to his tally of hundreds since that debut innings. During this period, he has missed 24 out of 40 Tests that Pakistan have played.

However, there's little doubt that he is an immense force in the shorter formats. He has a wide range of strokes, is a busy runner between the wickets, is willing to play his shots from the start, and is fearless and loves the big occasion. Since making his ODI debut in August 2009, he has played 94 out of Pakistan's 118, missing only 24, which shows he is far more integral to Pakistan's plans in that format. Similarly in T20Is, where he has played 54 out of Pakistan's 56 matches since his debut.

In both these formats, he has excellent numbers. As an ODI player he averages more than 38 at a strike rate of 87; in T20I, he averages almost 30 at a strike rate touching 123. His penchant for the big stage was most recently reflected in the World Twenty20 game against Australia in Mirpur, when he scored a scintillating 94 off 54 balls, an effort that won him the Man-of-the-Match award. That lifted his average in World Twenty20 games to 50.87 from 14 matches, at a strike rate of 137.50. His three half-centuries in these matches have come against Australia (twice) and South Africa, and two of those efforts have won him the match awards.

Umar Akmal in limited-overs formats
  Inngs Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
ODIs 83 2623 38.57 87.08 2/ 19
T20Is 51 1220 29.04 122.86 0/ 6

In ODIs, Akmal has done a fantastic job in the difficult positions of Nos. 5 and 6. These are positions in which batsmen either come in early with the team in trouble, or in the second half of the innings with the team requiring quick runs. Akmal has two centuries at No. 6 in ODIs, a record he shares with three others - Chris Cairns, Kieron Pollard and Shahid Afridi. Those three, though, average in the 20s at No. 6, suggesting that their hundreds were rare flashes of brilliance in what's otherwise been cameo-filled performances at No. 6. Akmal averages 42.13 at that slot, at a strike rate touching 90.

Among batsmen who have scored at least 2000 ODI runs at Nos. 5 and 6, Akmal's average of 40 and strike rate of 86 puts him among a rare bracket of batsmen who have scored quickly, and made lots of runs per dismissal, at those positions. Multiplying the average by the runs scored per ball, Akmal gets an index score of 34.59; only five batsmen in the 2000-run bracket have a better score than that, and they are all high-class players in those positions. In fact, his score is even marginally more than that of Misbah-ul-Haq, who has also been a legend at bailing Pakistan out from difficult positions.

Akmal's strike rate of 86.47 is also particularly impressive given that Pakistan often play in the UAE, where conditions are often difficult for quick run-scoring. In matches involving Akmal, the average strike rate is 76.18, which means he does about 13.5% better than the average batsman in these matches. In matches involving MS Dhoni, who has a similar strike rate, the average is 84.15, while it's 81.03 for Yuvraj Singh and 80.22 for Michael Hussey. That suggests that while these batsmen score at a rate similar to Akmal, they do so in conditions which are generally easier for quick-scoring that those matches involving Akmal.

Top ODI batsmen at No. 5 and 6 (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s Ave x SR/100
MS Dhoni 147 5182 49.82 85.09 4/ 33 42.39
Andrew Symonds 114 3970 44.11 92.97 6/ 25 41.01
Michael Bevan 120 4171 51.49 76.82 3/ 28 39.55
Eoin Morgan 77 2526 42.10 92.93 5/ 15 39.12
Michael Hussey 105 3486 42.00 86.78 2/ 23 36.45
Umar Akmal 74 2480 40.00 86.47 2/ 19 34.59
Misbah-ul-Haq 83 2809 44.58 77.19 0/ 22 34.41
Rahul Dravid 82 2765 44.59 75.48 2/ 23 33.66
Hansie Cronje 88 2686 41.32 81.09 0/ 18 33.51
Yuvraj Singh 150 4825 38.60 86.31 7/ 33 33.52

Among Pakistan batsmen at these positions, Akmal is a star, with the highest index score, marginally better than that of Misbah. The others who have scored 2000-plus runs all have index scores of less than 30, including Inzamam-ul-Haq, whose score is 29.28. In the matches Inzamam played, the average match strike rate was 71.69, which means he was about 6.7% better than average, compared with Akmal's 13.5%. All the others, including Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Imran Khan and Saleem Malik, have scores in the mid-20s.

Pakistan's top ODI batsmen at Nos. 5 and 6 (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Inngs Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s Ave x SR/100
Umar Akmal 74 2480 40.00 86.47 2/ 19 34.59
Misbah-ul-Haq 83 2809 44.58 77.19 0/ 22 34.41
Inzamam-ul-Haq 125 3905 38.28 76.49 0/ 28 29.28
Younis Khan 79 2255 34.16 79.12 0/ 16 27.03
Mohammad Yousuf 101 3078 34.97 73.99 3/ 18 25.87
Imran Khan 105 2717 34.39 74.43 1/ 15 25.60
Saleem Malik 122 3096 30.05 80.56 0/ 20 24.21
Shoaib Malik 93 2354 28.36 82.25 0/ 16 23.33

One of the aspects that makes Akmal formidable is his proficiency against both pace and spin - he averages 38.44, and scores at a run rate of 5.42 runs per over against pace and medium pace, and 41.91 at a run rate of 4.92 against spin, suggesting that he doesn't have any significant weakness in terms of his ability to score against different types of bowlers. Left-arm spin isn't his favourite bowling type, but then you'd expect that for several right-hand batsmen.

Not yet 24, Akmal still has plenty of time to make a serious impression as a Test player as well, given that he has immense ability, and can play off both front and back foot. Right now, though, opposition bowlers would be plotting ways to get him out, given that he is Pakistan's most complete batsman in their current World Twenty20 squad.

Umar Akmal v different types of bowling in ODIs
Bowler type Dismissals Average Run rate
Right-arm spin 13 50.15 5.13
Left-arm pace 4 43.75 4.66
Right-arm pace 39 37.89 5.53
Left-arm spin 10 31.20 4.54

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter