Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd ODI, Lahore January 24, 2009

Akmal unworthy of selection

Nothing illustrates more aptly the emptiness of whatever method and merit there is to Pakistan's current thinking than the continued selection of Kamran Akmal as a first-choice wicketkeeper

So complacent to Kamran Akmal's failings have we become that the issue is no longer a debating point. © AFP

Nothing illustrates more aptly the emptiness of whatever method and merit there is to Pakistan's current thinking than the continued selection of Kamran Akmal as a first-choice wicketkeeper.

For about three years now, without exaggeration, Akmal has missed nearly a chance per match - an ODI - on average, sometimes more. This series has not bucked any trends. He missed a stumping today and dropped a catch in Karachi's second ODI. His glovework to spinners in particular is, to be blunt, appalling, as if the ball and gloves both carry negative charges. Clean takes are seen as often as dry eyes in an Obama speech.

Shahid Afridi in ODIs has now joined Danish Kaneria in Tests as a repeat victim of Akmal's ineptitude; catches, stumpings, byes given away like every day is Eid. Geoffrey Boycott's great grandmother was an even bet to complete today's stumping off Shoaib Malik (Stevie Wonder, according to bookies, was the odds-on favourite).

So complacent to his failings have we become that the issue is no longer a debating point. Sarfraz Ahmed was tried half-heartedly last year. He did little wrong but was dropped as soon as a new selection committee came in and nobody peeped. Akmal returned, as if to the manor born, amid cautious assessment that he had improved. It was tosh, swiftly evidenced in three missed chances against West Indies in Abu Dhabi.

If the issue is brought up, with selectors, team-mates, the captain even, it is said his batting makes up for it, as it did admittedly in Abu Dhabi. It is the curse Adam Gilchrist has left the game that poor wicketkeepers around the world are excused if only they know which side of the bat to hold. Akmal can bat, but that is not the same thing as making up for his follies. And anyway a player's value to a side is not a balance book that you even out at the end.

By scoring a fifty, you do not automatically make up for two catches missed earlier. A dropped chance is not just calculated in the runs made thereafter. The very mood, circumstances, and momentum of a game changes; if a wicketkeeper is the touchstone from whom fielders take their cue, then at least one reason why Pakistan are so inconsistent in the field is clear. At the risk of stating the obvious - and it obviously needs stating - a player's value is to be judged only by what he adds, not a total sum of his failings from his positives.

But if his batting is to be used as a persistent defence, if we are to go down that road, then there isn't much there either. In his last 49 matches, he averages 21 with a single hundred against Bangladesh and two fifties. Charitably, there are perhaps four match-changing ODI knocks in three years. So no, let's not go down that road.

Akmal had something when he first cemented his place in the side. In Australia, India, the West Indies and at home against England over 2004 and 2005, he was a good wicketkeeper as well as batsman. To spin, he was safe, often spectacular. But he hasn't had it for a long, long time. This may have been a poor patch sometime ago, but it is now turning into a horrid half-life. In this form, he might not catch a cold in an epidemic.

Yet as sure as day follows night, there will be no calls for replacing or resting Akmal for a while. For Shoaib Akhtar there will be screams, for Afridi there are perennial daggers. But Akmal will go on, Pakistan's Mr Teflon, on whom no criticism (or catch) sticks. It is said that he is particularly close to Malik. This much is true that Malik has repeatedly insisted Akmal be retained through this period. He even called him, a little while back, the second-best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world, after Gilchrist, which should invite defamation lawsuits from Kumar Sangakkara and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, to say nothing of Brendon McCullum.

Predictably, Malik defended his performance again today. "This is the same Akmal who has won Pakistan matches from difficult situations. Catches are dropped by all wicketkeepers and one or two in recent matches doesn't make a difference. We have to keep the future in mind and not put pressure on him," he said.

Sadly the thinking is emblematic not just of a cricket culture where merit is often wholly forsaken and mediocrity repeatedly rewarded for the sake of a personal connection, but of an entire nation.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • mateen on January 28, 2009, 17:33 GMT

    I personally think Akmal is suffering from some psychological strain. Maybe it is to do with sarfraz ahmed, or maybe its just what pakistan are going through right now. I don't know what happened to him in the last three years...he's gone from hero to zero.

  • Kamran on January 26, 2009, 6:01 GMT

    I fully agree with you Usman, why don't the people who talk about Akmal's so-called batting ability think that he has lost Pakistan almost the double number of series than he has won matches, so for God's sake Malik don't be a partisan, you can so easily compromise the nation's expectations and interest in cricket,just rid of a player who doesn't even try to improve, who thinks he's permanent in the team and doesn't even admit his weaknesses.He should be ashamed of himself after what he has been doing consistently, look at Gilchrist, he dropped 2-3 catches over a period of 5-7 matches and made up his mind straight away that he wanted to quit and look here Akmal drops at least 1/match and yet you find him, the captain and even the team-selectors skeptic, come on give me a break, try anybody for keeping but not him no matter if it be Shoaib Akhtar.

  • Kurleigh on January 25, 2009, 23:05 GMT

    Skuller, Dhoni has 1 hundred in 35 Test matches, Kamran has 5 hundreds in 38. Sorry to say, I rate Kamran way ahead as a batsman based on those numbers. Sangakarra now plays as a specialist batsman in Test Cricket for Sri Lanka, with Jayawardene playing as a specialist keeper - I won't compare Kamran's batting to Sangakarra's. But Kamran is a special player - and everyone, including Boucher, Sangakarra, Gilchrist, Haddin, Dhoni, McCullum and Prior ALL drop catches from time to time.

  • esesjay on January 25, 2009, 18:54 GMT

    I am sorry but one catch dropped by a wk is far too many and akmal has the ability to drop atleast two on average in every match that he plays. Pakistan needs a wk that can bat not a batsman that can keep. If the selectors think that he is a good enough batsman than forget wicket keeping put him in as a batsman but if they need a wk then get him far away from the cricket field as he is really not worthy of his place. Just one catch can and often does change the complexion of the game.

  • Jabran on January 25, 2009, 18:54 GMT

    Akmal is so bad he couldn't catch a cold need to pick someone else now

  • Sheraz on January 25, 2009, 18:21 GMT

    You are making kamran akmal an escape goat. Yes, i myself is very upset on his wicketkeeping but he is no way fully responsible for letting Srilanks make 310 on that wicket....what would you say on the effectiveness of Afridi and his batting...he is a liability. Where is the concentration and resilience of Younis and Misbah ? Having seen the way Khurram batted in whole has proven that his first ODI 83 odd score was a fluke..........Do we have to tell at this level that where to bowl in death overs........GUL and Sohail khan bowled rubbish to Dilshan..........Pakistani team needs a postmortem .

  • mateen on January 25, 2009, 16:28 GMT

    A good enough solution to Akmal's continued disastrous form with the gloves is that he should be allowed to concentrate on his keeping for some time. The management should let him bat at number 8 or 9 for a short period of time(and I'm not saying do this based on his batting ability; he has won lots of matches for Pakistan with his batting in the most pressurized situations). When he will know that he is coming lower down in the order he will automatically concentrate more on his keeping. After experimenting with this, bring Akmal back to the opening spot or number 6. I know there are negative side-effects with this too; that Akmal's batting ability might weaken if he comes lower down the order, but if Pakistan want change in Akmal's capability, they need to take action NOW. Akmal is a good keeper, but if he wants to stay in the team, he has to be consistent and do some pretty hard work!

  • jano on January 25, 2009, 16:10 GMT

    He neither called Gilli a poor wicket-keeper nor he exonerated Akmal of being a poor player during last couple of years. There was a hint that teams are selecting keepers that aren't good enough but because they can bat a bit. He meant that Gilli has raised the bars for keepers not that he was poor lad. And don't get me started on Kumar and Dhoni, where is the statement that mentions that they have lower average than Akmal or he is a better player than them.

  • Shiva on January 25, 2009, 14:42 GMT

    Hey Kupp. I dont know from where you got your statistics. Akmal does not have an average better than Dhoni or Sangakarra. Both of them can be selected in any world team without hesitation for just one of the 2 skills that they possess and are damn good at. Its because of people like you who think of just the country rather than the player that people like Akmal are still escaping the axe. Akmal is apalling and he must go for the betterment of Pakistan and World cricket. Cheers

  • Kiruthikan on January 25, 2009, 14:10 GMT

    "It is the curse Adam Gilchrist has left the game that poor wicketkeepers around the world are excused if only they know which side of the bat to hold"... What? Gilchrist averaged more than 4 dismissals per test match (416 in 96) and more than 1.5 per ODI (472 in 287). In addition he scored 5570 test runs @ 47.6 and 9619 ODI runs @ 35.89. I won't never agree that Gilchrist left an impression that ever "poor keepers" can survive if they can bat. He was a brilliant keeper. How can Osman compare a keeper who dismissed more than a player in a match with Akmal who misses a batsman every match. The quoted statement should be rephrased i guess... otherwise a truly magnificent assessment this from Osman.

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