Seeing is believing the renaissance of Kamran Akmal
You may have heard that Kamran Akmal has lately been scoring runs like you wouldn't believe. Over a thousand of them in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, in just nine games, and scoring them at over 70 runs per 100 balls. He got the thousand in just 13 innings and he helped his side win the title, helped in patches by his old compadres, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif.
You may also have heard that he was the fifth highest scorer in the last National T20 Cup, the T20 tournament that isn't the Pakistan Super League but that was once actually an event that you could look forward to as much as the PSL. Now it is there more or less out of habit, because it has always been there. His strike rate was over 140.
You may have heard as well that he was fifth-highest scorer in the National One-Day Cup, where he averaged over 45. The strike rate wasn't great, just over 75, but what you might not have seen probably won't much hurt you.
A few of you may have seen him score these runs and if you did, quite likely you put these down to the fact of Pakistani domestic cricket. Sure he was batting well, but some attacks and some sides on the circuit… Salman Butt came back after five years out and is still one of the leading batsmen for crying out loud.
You are much more likely to have not just heard but seen the runs Kamran Akmal has scored in the PSL this season. And to see the runs he has made here, against better attacks, on a grander stage, well these runs start making you think all kinds of things.
Take his 104 tonight, against Karachi Kings. A hundred in a T20 game is still a mighty impressive feat and to do it in a virtual semi-final, against two of the tournament's top five wicket-takers - Sohail Khan and Usama Mir - and Mohammad Amir is that much more.
But really what you would have seen and understood was that the hundred was a sidebar, a mere number that comes after the double figures have run out. It was the way those runs were made that would have been impossible to ignore.
Compared to some other T20 leagues, the PSL does not give up runs so easily. Still there have been some good runs scored this time. Among the Pakistanis, Babar Azam has made plenty. Over the second half of the tournament, Ahmed Shehzad has done so too. Shoaib Malik has had a moment. Shahid Afridi has had an innings or three for the dreamers within us. The young Fakhar Zaman has not gone unnoticed.
But when Kamran Akmal starts hitting runs not only do the rest shrink into the horizon, but the not-so-good Kamran Akmal does as well, that one who drops catches and edges to the arc behind him anywhere outside the subcontinent. He is just such a clean striker of the ball, managing somehow to give off the effect both of good timing and great power, that his runs can look more convincing than anybody else's.
He isn't without finesse: that square drive off the very first ball of the match was so matter-of-fact and sans ceremony it felt like he'd played out a dot ball. And the open-faced glide off the next, again to the boundary, was cuter still. He still owns the grass between cover and extra cover with the same unquestioned authority a feudal landlord does his lands, but tonight he all but left it untended. There was one six over extra cover, off Usama Mir, just a little signpost to let us know the area is still in his possession, but otherwise to behold was the straightness of his six-hitting.
We see more sixes now than ever before but the one straight down the ground still has a different way of taking your breath away. To not only repel an object hurled at you with considerable force, in most cases, but to hit it back in the opposite direction from whence it came, and sometimes with greater force, it takes some doing. And in the way of an old, grumpy man who looks suspiciously at innovation, Shahid Afridi's old view that there is no need to hit new-fangled, fancy shots if you can hit straight becomes an appealing one once you've seen Akmal hit as he did here. If a gun was put to the head and only one of the five sixes he hit between long-off and long-on could be picked as the best, you still might choose all five and a happy death.
He was striking it like it was 2005 again, when everything was right in Kamran Akmal's world. Which brings us to the crux: that the PSL is the sideshow - albeit a big, glittering one - right now in Akmal's life to the main event. A few days ago, outside the Dubai hotel that the entire PSL has called home, Akmal was wondering - much more vigorously than that verb might imply - what he might have to do to return to the national side. That is the goal, even more it is a fair bet, than winning the PSL. He has had two successive monster seasons of domestic cricket in a row - had it been one, you could pass it off, but two becomes a little more difficult. And now the PSL.
"My hopes have been high for the last two years," he said after the game when asked whether this performance could mean an international return. "I have scored runs, my fitness and form is good. The rest is up to the selectors. Only they and the board can give you the answer." He has said it over and over again - this is why you've heard about all those runs he's been scoring. It's driving home the logic that imprisons selection: I am scoring runs, which is all I can be asked to do, so now pick me.
Before this PSL, you could've heard about all the runs Kamran Akmal has scored this season and the last and still found a hundred reasons for him not to return for Pakistan. He's too old. He's an Akmal. Pakistan's been burnt by him too many times. Sarfraz Ahmed is too well established and going nowhere. All of these are reasonable.
But barring a substantial Ahmed Shehzad innings in the final and a failure for Akmal, you will hear in the coming days that Kamran Akmal was the top scorer in the 2017 PSL. And this time, it's more than likely that you haven't just heard about these runs, you've seen them. Try to ignore that.
Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo