Pakistan v Australia, 1st Test, Lord's

Kamran Akmal faces his mental challenge

His career hit rock-bottom in Australia when he suffered a nightmare Test in Sydney, but Kamran Akmal has been given another chance.

Nagraj Gollapudi

July 12, 2010

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Kamran Akmal looks dejected after dropping Peter Siddle, Australia v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Sydney, 4th day, January 6, 2010
Kamran Akmal couldn't do much right in the Sydney Test against Australia © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Paul Farbrace | Kamran Akmal
Series/Tournaments: Pakistan tour of England
Teams: Pakistan

Among all the questions Pakistan will be asked of over the next seven weeks, an important one will be how Kamran Akmal found his way back into the Test squad despite being hauled over coals in January for the Sydney Test debacle. In a deplorable outing Kamran missed four catches (three of them off Michael Hussey) and an easy run out off Shane Watson (knocking the bails off with hands as the ball slipped out his hands) in the Test where Australia bounced back from the brink of defeat.

In the following days Kamran was derided naturally but he kept his chin up and naively announced to the media that he would be playing in the following Test at Hobart. This was news even to the team management who had meanwhile rushed in the reinforcement Sarfraz Ahmed who eventually played the match. Kamran was left with nothing but biting nails and eating his words.

It was not the first time Kamran had faced such severe scrutiny. After riding the wave of success initially during his first two years at international level he reached a plateau and has remained stuck since. Though he was dropped for the first time in 2008, from the Asia Cup squad, after the then PCB chairman personally questioned Akmal's shoddy glovework during the Kitply Cup in Bangladesh the same year, it was not for long.

On his return he went back to his usual slippery ways, infuriating the bowler and the selectors. Still he remains the first-choice wicketkeeper for the numerous selections panels over the last five years. Critics believed that the only reason he continues to hold his place is because of his batting, which can be promising but not consistent. But mainly it was because the lack of any other reliable alternatives left the selectors with no other choice.

Regardless of the rumours and innuendoes Kamran still has some backers including from foreign quarters. Geoff Lawson, Pakistan's former coach, believes Kamran's problems are more mental. "He has got the skills to be a good wicketkeeper. It is just that when people criticise him that affects his confidence," Lawson said. Hence when Lawson joined Pakistan he told the players not to be affected by the media reports. He even advised players not to speak to media. That wasn't easy.

"When he has confidence he has got good self belief but the Pakistan system is a all about criticism and that is a vicious cycle," Lawson said. That is exactly what happened during the Australian series. Lawson was doing radio commentary then and witnessed Kamran's struggles from up close. According to him the Pakistani had a good first Test but in Sydney "he dropped a couple of difficult ones". "He got unfairly criticised for his performance in that game," Lawson said. "People were not being objective and that just was ridiculous."

 
 
Wicketkeeping is about not having distractions and not pre-judging. When keepers struggle they start looking for something to happen - they start thinking about the ball swinging, spinning, keeping low as opposed to just reacting with a good posture to how the ball behaves Paul Farbrace on the demons Kamran Akmal needs to confront
 

What made things difficult for Kamran were his fumbles were being dissected based on the TV evidence. "Look at the catches dropped; a legspinner bowling to a lefthander, getting an outside edge is not an easy thing to catch," Lawson added. "They all look simple in slow motion but some of the catches he dropped were not so easy. One was inside edge on the pad, on the glove and in slow motion you feel that he should have caught them between two fingers. People just stuck into him and held him responsible for losing the Test match."

Instead of charting out a detailed rehabilitation plan, Lawson said Kamran became a victim of the hostility and politics within the Pakistan Cricket Board, which was happy to feed to the speculations of a hungry media. "He did not get the support form the coaching staff and the administration. He has got to have coaches, selectors, co-players supporting him. If an Australian player makes a mistake he gets supported by everybody so you overcome the mistake pretty easily. But in Pakistan you get criticised at the drop of the hat."

In the aftermath of the Australia tour where Pakistan failed to notch a single win, Kamran was found guilty of indiscipline along with his younger brother Umar, who feigned injury ahead of the Hobart Test because Kamran was dropped. The PCB fined Kamran Rs 3 million and Umar Rs 2 million. Subsequently the fines were reduced by the six-man inquiry committee appointed to report on the disastrous tour. Pakistan's then head coach Inthikab Alam and his assistant Aaqib Javed raised concerns over Kamran's three dropped catches in Sydney along with the run out.

On his return Kamran has been more clear-eyed, talking to various former keepers like Ian Healy and Paul Farbrace, former Middlesex gloveman and Kent's current head coach. Healy mainly asked Kamran to revisit the basics when the pair met in Hobart.

"He felt it [training] needs to be more deliberate," said David Dwyer, Pakistan's multi-faceted trainer, who helps out Kamran with the drills. According to Dwyer, Healy said Kamran has a good wicket-keeping game. But Dwyer has continued to work closely with Kamran. "My total focus is to make sure he is fit which may help in other areas like side-to-side movement, the jumping, the running."


Kamran Akmal got Pakistan off to a good start, collecting 33 off 25 balls, Pakistan v Australia, 2nd Twenty20, Edgbaston, July 6 2010
It has often been Kamran Akmal's batting that has kept him in the team © PA Photos
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During the two victorious Twenty20s at Edgbaston Kamran was pro-active and was seen jumping out of his position, sprinting towards the ball, turning and trying to force run outs or trying to prevent a single. Dwyer said Kamran's enthusiasm leapt after getting a good rating from Healy. Lawson saw the same openness when he had Kamran under his wings. "His attitude to the game is fantastic. He loves to come out and work hard and his dedication and discipline is absolutely fabulous."

Farbrace, who was Sri Lanka's assistant coach before joining Kent, had seen Kamran's glovework for a few years from close quarters. It didn't take him long to highlight the areas that Kamran could work on when the Pakistani sought him out for a couple of sessions during the warm-up game in Canterbury late last month.

"The two main things I pointed he needs to work on were his posture and the keeping his hands forward. His hands were a little bit close to his body so I told him by keeping them in front he would have a nice big catching area. It was just really a couple of reminders with a fresh pair of eyes," Farbrace said.

Farbrace was happy that Kamran was open to suggestions because he feels like fast bowlers wicketkeepers, too, like to have a little bit of help from time to time. Incidentally some of the drills Farbrace introduced to Kamran were the same he had given the Sri Lanka pair of Kumar Sangakkara and Prasanna Jayawardene.

Farbrace agreed that England is a quite a difficult place to keep wickets because the ball swings late so you have to catch more under the line of the eyes and outside the line of the head compared to places like Pakistan and Australia. It was in England four years ago that Kamran's downfall started when he left alone or spilled some easy chances. So Farbrace stressed to Kamran on lining the ball better with his eyes and his head. And when standing up the right posture is getting the hands forward and using the hips more when the ball bounces.

"So rather than keeping the chest behind the ball I told him actually to curve the body to almost a side-on position to allow the hands to stay on the line of the ball when it bounces.

"Wicketkeeping is a massive confidence thing," Farbrace added. "Also he wasn't gloving the ball as well as he would've liked to have done and he also missed some chances. It is a mental thing and more than anything he needed to go back to his basics. And good practice brings confidence. That's what he has got now: he is a lot more confident, he knows his practice is good, he is very fit, he is working hard.

"His agility was not in doubt - all he did earlier was he got way back on his heels rather than being on the balls of his feet and that caused his hands to be closer to his body than he would've liked it. Hence he was catching the ball under his body rather than now in front of his body. Therefore he wasn't always picking the ball up as well as he could've done."

The results are coming steadily. Kamran claimed a brilliant stumping off James Hopes in the second Twenty20 at Edgbaston. Farbrace believes the Test series will be a different set of challenges where Kamran will need to block out distractions for six hours.

"If you feel you are struggling against a particular bowler or you are not having a great time it is very easy to be distracted," he said. "Wicketkeeping is about not having distractions and not pre-judging. When keepers struggle they start looking for something to happen - they start thinking about the ball swinging, spinning, keeping low as opposed to just reacting with a good posture to how the ball behaves. That is the challenge."

It all comes back to Lawson's point on the mental approach. "Technical mistake originates as a mental mistake so you got to work on the mental stuff first," he said. "But if you practise and get the technical stuff right it can have a reverse effect where you have the confidence to go out and play freely." It remains to be seen if Kamran can get a grip on both fronts.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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Posted by Desihungama on (July 13, 2010, 14:22 GMT)

And perhaps he should not be baby sitting 2' O clock in the morning when there is a game to be played. That is the extreme of unprofessionalism. PCB has a tendency of carrying extra baggage on foreign trips in form of wives, friends, servants, batmans, NRO acquittals and so forth.

Posted by   on (July 13, 2010, 9:39 GMT)

Rashid Latif has several times offered Kamran to take a few months break and practice the basics with him. He also said, Kamran is afraid to lose his place in the team so he prefer to hide his injuries and play even unfit. When do you remember Kamran missed a match due to fitness? My memory says:NEVER!

Wicketkeeper is the most fittest player in the team and if he is not, he is going to be struggling. If you have injured fingers, you are praying God that the batsman never leaves the express deliveries. When you gain a bit more weight, he is thinking twice before diving to take the catches sideways. A little problem in knee or leg, you are slow to stand-up after the ball being delivered, etc, etc...

I believe, at this point specially, Kamran should be aware that he is the best Wicketkeeper batsman in Pakistan, and there are no Rashid or Moin to take his place either. So he can take a break from Cricket after or before the season and go to Rashid's Academy. The earlier - The Better!

Posted by SaudSami on (July 13, 2010, 9:11 GMT)

It is definitely a mental thing. The Australians used a strategy to break him down. The half chances he dropped were repeatedly shown on the big screen in the ground to get inside his head. It got him under pressure and lead to errors. There should be a code of conduct on what you can show on the big screen. The mistakes made by the umpires are not highlighted in this manner.

Posted by   on (July 13, 2010, 8:39 GMT)

PCB and Akmal need to understand one thing. Players who don perform are dropped for a reason. The player needs to take a break, recuperate for some time (atleast 3 to 4 months). Then he needs to work hard under someone's coaching. Every player has been dropped. They have been put back to reality and the pressure has been removed off them. But they all had the balls to come back and play efficient cricket and contribute better. It is a natural cycle. I think, PCB and Pakistan supporters are thinking that wicketkeeping can be compensated by batting skills. It is very very wrong. Even the great Gilly considered wicketkeeping his first and main job. C'mon guys, a dropped catch is easily worth 70 odd runs. Also another factor PCB needs to consider is Pakistan's fort is bowling and not batting (especially when playing overseas). So every dropped catch will decrease the confidence of the team. If I am not wrong, Kamran will not perform better in any series unless he and PCB realise this.

Posted by cskfangg on (July 13, 2010, 8:35 GMT)

lawson says those catches were difficult.. Then have a good wicket keeper who hold good catches to wiin a match against strong teams like Aussie.. I think this is stupid..if a WK miss a catch in a t20 or ODI then its managable bcoz batsmen take many risk to score,so they will caught again..but in test matches they dont..they became more carefull when a life given...then what will they do if u miss 5 or 6 normal chances...you see a whitewash!!! :))

Posted by   on (July 13, 2010, 8:02 GMT)

I still strongly believe that a good wicketkeeper should be safe with his gloves behind the wicket. Batting is additional advantage but wicketkeeper should be selected on the basis of his wicketkeeping performance rather than his batting performace. kamran Akmal is an excellent batsman but he has not proved his worth as a good wicketkeeper especially in longer version of game. So if Kamran Akmal is to be retained he should be included as batsman rather than a wicketkeeper.Pakistan have lost so many crucial matches just because of poor wicketkeeping of Kamran Akmal.

Pakistan in past has suffered due to poor wicketkeeping of Moin Khan as well. He was an excellent batsman but his wicketkeeping sometimes cost pakistan dearly. But Pakistan team seems to never learn from past blunders. So please take wicketkeeping as a specialized field rather than going for batsman who can keep wickets as well.

Posted by   on (July 13, 2010, 7:59 GMT)

I Dont understand our emotional public, Everyone sees the catches that Kamran Akmal dropped in Sydney test but not the way that the batsmen responded to the below par score of 160. Despite of dropping those catches it was very easy to win but no questions about the batsmen and team management(involved in the planning of chase) are raised. Kamran Akmal is a very good batsman and a decent keeper(every one has some bad days). I have seen him play such good knocks under immense pressure. He is the best and most experienced Keeper in the team. So people please dont criticize everything but try be optimistic and support your team.

Posted by   on (July 13, 2010, 7:13 GMT)

Please forget the inclusion of Akmal on his batting skills, is he more prolific scorer then Mohammad Yousuf Aur Younis Khan ? he is playing as a keeper if he can score thats a bonus. What Sarfaraz did wrong as a keeper in the 3rd Test that he has been dropped? How many test matches and ODI lossed do we need to drop someone from national team.

Posted by hasan.cheema on (July 13, 2010, 5:29 GMT)

We have no other choice, Zulqarnain cant bat, even Aamir bat well than Zulqarnain,

Posted by gghdty on (July 13, 2010, 5:23 GMT)

Kamran is worth his weight in gold to the pakistan team. He is an aggresive and reliable performer. Forget the past forever and enjoy every moment cause he is probably the best wicket keeper batsman in the world along with Sangakara and Dhoni. He will do fine as always.

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