Time running out for Akmal
Though he took three catches on the second day of the first Test against South Africa in Karachi, it was the one that got away from Kamran Akmal yesterday which could yet cost Pakistan.
Jacques Kallis was on 36 when he attempted to cut Danish Kaneria. He succeeded only in edging it; Akmal succeeded only in fluffing it. He rectified it but, 55 overs and 119 Kallis runs later, the true cost of the drop may ultimately prove much higher.
This isn't a one-off, of course. Akmal's form behind the stumps since his remarkable first year in the team as a regular has deteriorated so spectacularly that one journalist quipped that Kallis had found the unluckiest way to be dismissed in cricket: 'caught Akmal'.
He has been persisted with through 27 consecutive Tests, and if the first 15 Tests were outstanding, the last 12 have been exceedingly poor. His batting has fallen away (only three fifties in that period) and he has read spinners, particularly Danish Kaneria, as adroitly as Englishmen used to pick Abdul Qadir.
Opinion on what has happened is not particularly diverse. Rashid Latif and Wasim Bari have long felt there are technical problems and that he should be rested. Imtiaz Ahmed, Pakistan's first Test wicketkeeper, agrees, though he points out Akmal's poor footwork particularly to the spinners.
"His [Akmal's] initial movement is wrong: he should be moving his right foot to the right to an off-stump line, and not back as he does at the moment," he told Cricinfo. "The technical shortcomings aren't anything that can't be overcome but he has to work at it. It wouldn't be a bad idea to take him through recordings of his early career when he did well."
The only question is how long Pakistan can persist with a man who has become, some snigger, the poor man's Parthiv Patel. The selection committee has already started asking it. "He is a little off-colour at the moment," Salahuddin Ahmed, Pakistan's chief selector, admitted, "and we have been looking at other options as we should."
Those options include Sarfraz Ahmed, who was captain and wicketkeeper of the Pakistan U-19 team that won the World Cup in 2006. He has since been impressing on the domestic circuit and played against the South Africans in the tour match for the Patron's XI.
"Sarfraz was impressive in the warm-up and he also played a couple of crucial, fighting innings against Australia A, so he's in form," Salahuddin said. Also in the fray are Rawalpindi's Zulqarnain Haider and Faisalabad's Mohammad Salman, who comes with recommendations by Rashid Latif.
Immediate change is still unlikely - though not ruled out - mostly because of the security Akmal's batting brings, especially on slower, subcontinent pitches. He opened Pakistan's innings in place of Salman Butt and contributed a quickfire 42 to a much-needed solid start. "He is still a good batsman and that certainly helps his cause," Salahuddin said. "It is a dilemma certainly and one we have to take a decision on." Sooner, you think, rather than later.
Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo