Pakistan v England 2011-12 January 23, 2012

Akmal the answer for Pakistan

After long periods of change behind the stumps, Adnan Akmal's solid work could provide Pakistan with a settled wicketkeeper

Pakistan had several heroes in the first Test of their series against England in Dubai. While Saeed Ajmal understandably dominated the headlines with his 10-wicket haul, the performances of Misbah-ul-Haq, Umar Gul, Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar and Abdur Rehman were also highly impressive. It was, most of all, a fine team effort.

But perhaps most pleasing of all was the contribution of Adnan Akmal. The 26-year-old is not the finished article. His keeping, though capable, lacks the consistency of the very best. A first-class batting average of 23.63 suggests that expectations should be tempered. Yet, most encouragingly, he showed a welcome ability to flourish under pressure in Dubai.

It would be stretching a point to state that the game was in the balance when Akmal came to the crease. Pakistan were, after all, 231 for five, and already had a lead of 39. By dismissing England for just 192 on the first day, Pakistan took a hold on the game that they were never to relinquish.

If England were to strike back it was going to be then. And when Pakistan lost three wickets for six runs at the end of the second day and start of the third, it appeared England might limit the lead to little more than 100.

Akmal ensured Pakistan consolidated their position. He drove the seamers beautifully, stole the strike masterfully and swept, or reverse swept, the spin of Graeme Swann to distraction. Akmal recorded the highest score of his 11-match Test career and drove another nail into England's coffin. It was a highly assured innings.

It also suggested Pakistan might, at last, have settled on a keeper around which they could plan for the next few years. They have tried a few - Mohammad Salman, Zulqarnain Haider, Kamran Akmal and, in limited-overs matches, Umar Akmal - but all have, for one reason or another, been found wanting. Adnan Akmal, the middle brother of Kamran and Umar, might well have the best combination of glovework and batting ability of the lot of them.

"Kamran always guided me. He has played more cricket than me. He would warn me who is dangerous for him and he always told me to keep working hard. I've benefited from that hard work."
Adnan Akmal

It has not been a smooth path for Adnan Akmal. First, the presence of his brother Kamran blocked his route into the international team. Then, after failing to contribute enough with the bat, he was dropped following Pakistan's tour of New Zealand despite talking six catches in an innings in the previous Test in Wellington.

He now admits he has had to work hard to reach the standards required at international level and shares the problem England's batsmen have had reading the bowling of Saeed Ajmal.

"I had some trouble keeping to Ajmal's doosra," Akmal said after training on Monday. "So I worked with Ijaz Ahmed and the drills have helped me a lot.

"Keeping to Ajmal is different and difficult. I watch his hand and I've practised a lot. Only after that was I able to keep better to his bowling. We don't exchange signals. If you do that it's no use being a keeper.

Akmal did admit he had seen no sign of the much-vaunted "teesra" that Ajmal had claimed he would unleash in the first Test. "I never felt any difference," Akmal said. "They were the normal deliveries I have been keeping in the last ten matches. He was bowling in the same manner. It may be different for the batsmen but I did not feel any difference."

Akmal was at a loss to explain England's poor batting. "They are better batsmen than us," he said. "I don't know what happened, really. We bowled very well - Ajmal was outstanding."

He was also quick to credit his brother, Kamran, for his advice and support. "It was always my wish to play for Pakistan," Adnan said. "I've been playing first-class cricket for about ten years and I just wanted to perform for Pakistan like I did in the first-class game.

"I learned a lot from my brothers. We have helped each other. When Kamran was playing he used to ask me for advice and now I ask him. We support each other. Kamran always guided me. He has played more cricket than me. He would warn me who is dangerous for him and he always told me to keep working hard. I've benefited from that hard work."

Meanwhile seamer Mohammad Talha has been ruled out of the rest of the series with a back injury. Pakistan will not send for a replacement. While they selected three seamers the last time they played a Test in Abu Dhabi, they are likely to stick with the two spinner policy that served them so well in Dubai. But they are considering bringing in Junaid Khan, who claimed five for 38 against Sri Lanka here in October, in place of Aizaz Cheema and Umar Akmal in place of Asad Shafiq.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo