'I need to tone down my desperation' - Umar Akmal
Umar Akmal, the Pakistan batsman, has maintained that he will not tone down his hard-hitting approach despite getting dropped from the Pakistan Test team recently, but admitted that he needed to work on batting for longer periods. "Being aggressive and not staying for long at the pitch are two different things," Akmal told ESPNcricinfo. "I am working hard to strengthen my ability to bat longer. I don't think I should hold back my shots in Tests. If I do that, I'll get confused and start declining."
Akmal was axed from the Test squad in October for the series against Sri Lanka after scoring just one half-century in the format in 2011. Mohsin Khan, the chief selector and interim coach, told him to "stop being selfish" and learn how to convert starts into substantial innings by going back to domestic cricket.
Akmal said that he now knew what the problem was with his batting: the tendency to fritter away starts. His attacking style didn't need to be altered. "Being aggressive is in my nature. Playing big shots in Test cricket is no more abnormal. We have [Virender] Sehwag, [Kevin] Pietersen and many other players who play big shots."
Belligerence and Test cricket are no longer mutually exclusive, especially after the advent of Twenty20. Belligerent was the manner in which Akmal announced his arrival on the Test stage in November 2009. In his first Test innings, against New Zealand in Dunedin, 19-year-old Akmal hammered 23 boundaries on his way to 129. None of the other specialist Pakistan batsmen managed 30 in that innings. The Dunedin hundred came after Akmal had blitzed to a century in his third ODI off 70 deliveries a couple of months earlier. No wonder he believes his fearless approach to playing strokes will be instrumental in building his career.
But the tremendous potential that he showed two years ago has largely gone unfulfilled till now. Akmal has not made another Test century since his impressive debut. After a poor year in 2010, when he averaged just 24.33, he was left out of the XI for the two Tests in New Zealand though he returned to the side for the Tests in the West Indies. But after struggling to play long innings even in ODIs, he was ultimately left out of the Test squad in October. The axeing was a big setback but Akmal has realised that it was justified. "It was a fair call by the selectors. I was in a hurry to score runs and was ending up without completing what my team required me to do.
"It's very disappointing when you are axed and especially from the Test squad. Test cricket is the supreme form of the game and it is where I want to perform the best. No matter how long you play one-dayers and Twenty20s, it is Test cricket that will determine your worth."
These days, Akmal is playing as much as he can for Cricket Center Cricket Club in Lahore - there has hardly been a day during which he hasn't played a match. He is also spending most of his time on the field with his brother Kamran Akmal, trying to develop control over his wide range of strokes. He admitted that he needed to cut down on his urge to go hard at the ball.
"When I am at the crease everything apart from the ball in the bowler's hands is a blur and I am very desperate to strike it. I think I need to tone down my desperation and that will come when play more and more cricket. My brother and coaches have helped me a lot in this regard, and you might have seen a difference in my recent batting."
The longer format, of course, demands more restraint and greater concentration compared to limited-overs cricket. Not all players can be adept in all formats, but Akmal asserted that he could cope with the demands of the modern game with a single approach.
"Cricket these days is so fast. I think I must not confuse myself by changing my focus again and again for different formats of the game. The approach must remain intact. What I was asked to do was to develop the temperament to stay at the wicket and [told that] the runs would then automatically come. I don't know what the selectors have decided about me, but I am very much hopeful to regain my place in the Test side. I am still young and learning. This is a process that will never end."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent