Umar Akmal has returned to the Pakistan side, possibly in the role of a wicketkeeper-batsman, for their tour of West Indies later this month after being dropped for the Champions Trophy. Having donned the gloves in only seven of his 71 ODI matches, he is aware of the difficulty ahead of him.
"I've played a lot of cricket for Pakistan as a batsman and to be handed the responsibility of having to also keep wicket is a tough ask," Akmal said in an interview with Pak Passion. "But sometimes you have to do things outside your comfort zone in sport and, if the selectors, captain and coach want me to keep wicket then I am prepared to do that and to give it my best shot."
"I've always enjoyed batting and fielding," he said. "(But) Bowling and wicketkeeping have never really been in my plans. We had enough wicketkeepers in our household and I was never needed as a keeper when we (Umar, Kamran and Adnan Akmal) practised as youngsters."
Pakistan came away from the Champions Trophy without a single win and their batting, except for Misbah-ul-Haq, was consistently brittle. To deal with this, the selectors dropped out-of-form batsmen Shoaib Malik, Imran Farhat and Kamran Akmal from the 16-man squad bound for the Caribbean. In Kamran's absence, Umar has been slotted in as a wicketkeeper-batsman, with Mohammad Rizwan as backup.
"Everybody had an opinion that to pick a side that can explore opportunities, we would need a wicketkeeper who is also a full-time batsman," Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore said. "We will be working with Umar to ensure he gets as much practice as he can to become a player who can fulfill both roles. We have seen this with South Africa, this is also what Rahul Dravid did for India years ago. So we need to understand what we are trying to achieve with this and we have to be patient after giving him a chance."
Akmal, who has been criticised for his needless aggression, considered his exclusion from the Champions Trophy as a "strange and surprising decision". His last match-winning contribution was in the World Twenty20 last year, when he played finisher during a chase of 136 against South Africa. He fared poorly in Pakistan's domestic season as well, struggling to 79 runs in six List A matches, which limited his appearance in the national side to only two international matches in 2013.
"It was very disappointing to miss out playing in such a prestigious tournament," he said. "I admit that at times I've played some reckless shots that I didn't need to play, but when you are out in the middle, in front of thousands of fans at the ground and millions watching on television, you want to do your best and entertain, and that sometimes leads to mistakes."
Akmal took his exclusion from the side as a lesson and plans to make the necessary changes to ensure he becomes a permanent fixture in the Pakistan team.
"The Champions Trophy snub was a kick in the groin. Whilst it was a setback, it also made me think about my approach to batting and the changes I needed to make as a batsman," he said. "I think you'll see a more mature Umar Akmal at the crease on the tour of the Caribbean and in the future. I don't think there will be a total overhaul of my approach, style and shot selection, but there will be some changes."