DateLine: 9th April 2015
There was something very familiar in the way twenty-four year old Umar Akmal holed out to Aaron Finch at deep mid-wicket during the 2015 World Cup Quarter Final clash against Australia. This was not the first time that a man purported to be blessed with tremendous talent had failed to make use of his skills to give Pakistan a fighting chance in an important game, and given his style of play, possibly not the last either.
To date, he has played 111 ODIs for Pakistan and managed an average of 34.67 which if put into the context of the actual games he has won for Pakistan does not seem to reconcile with his aggressive batting style and a strike rate which borders around 87. In addition to his frustrating inability to capitalize on good starts, Umar not for the first time, also seems to have run into hot water with the team management who do not see eye-to-eye with him on his attitude and have duly dropped him from the ODI and T20I team for the upcoming tour of Bangladesh.
So how does one reconcile the batting talent of Umar Akmal with the abject under achievement which has been the hallmark of his career so far? One person who knows the feeling himself and can perhaps shed some light on this anomaly is the eldest of the Akmal brothers, Kamran Akmal. Discarded himself after playing 53 Test matches, 154 ODIs and 54 T20I games for Pakistan, the thirty-three year old Kamran Akmal in an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, offered his thoughts on the sacrifices made by Umar Akmal for the benefit of the team and why he needs to be handled with care to ensure that Pakistan do not lose a supremely talented batsman due to alleged mismanagement.
Whilst the exact details were not made public by the PCB, the Chief Selector Haroon Rasheed clearly hinted towards issues with attitude when referring to the reasons for Umar Akmal's exclusion from the Pakistan squads for the Bangladesh tour. Umar Akmal was not the only beneficiary of the wrath of the team management as Ahmed Shehzad was also penalized by being included in just the T20I line-up in their attempt to display a no compromise policy on team discipline. However, Kamran feels that there are better ways to handle such issues and a more mature approach should have been the way forward.
"I cannot comment about why he was dropped as this is something only the selectors can say but to me this is not right as Umar has always put the cause of the team ahead of any personal comfort. As far as any issues are concerned, look we have all had problems and no one is an angel but this is where the coach and team management need to guide youngsters and help them understand if they have done something wrong. Discarding them like this is not a smart option and does not reflect well on the team management. Good teams can only be built by managing players correctly. If Umar has done something wrong then he should be taken to task as there should be no two ways when it comes to discipline. From what I understand, it's not just him as even Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad's names were supposedly mentioned in the manager/coach's report as well. Regardless of the offence, such stern punishment should not have been meted out to these players as this can seriously mess them up."
In order to further strengthen their batting line-up and possibly to play extra bowlers in the team, Pakistan have in the past used Umar Akmal to double up as a wicket-keeper batsman. This was also the case in the 2015 World Cup where the team balance was completely disrupted by the absence of Mohammad Hafeez as was the complex issue of a woefully out of form Nasir Jamshed and the failure of Younis Khan to perform with the bat. Regardless of the team dynamics at play, as Kamran Akmal explained, the fact remains that Umar Akmal stepped up to the plate to help Pakistan when the team needed him, obviously at a great personal cost to his career.
"Umar's not the first choice wicket keeper and he only played in that position as it was the need for the team but Sarfraz should have been played in the first instance and Umar should have concentrated on batting. In the end we had to get Sarfraz back in the team, but it would have been easier and more sensible to have him in the team from the onset. In the past, Umar was encouraged to do well. Now it seems that whenever there is experimentation required with the line-up, Umar is used as a sacrificial goat by shifting him up or down the order or even discarded as it pleases the management. Umar needs to be stopped being used as the sacrificial goat. To his credit, he has willingly compromised for the sake of the team without any complaints. This is not how good players are made. On the contrary, this is how you destroy good players."
As shocking as the exclusion from the Bangladesh tour may appear to his elder brother, this situation is more than likely to be nothing but a temporary setback in Umar Akmal's career. How this phase of his career will effect Umar's future is not something which Kamran Akmal is too worried about now. However, he would like the team management to act sensibly and understand that in treating Umar Akmal in a fair and understanding manner, they are also acting in the long term interest of the national team.
"Umar is not a 40 year old that we have to worry about his future. Much older players than him are still playing so don't think he needs to worry too much about his future. With the grace of God, he will have at least 10-15 years of international cricket ahead of him and I am sure he will do his best and be back in the team. I have no doubt about his talent as I have myself trained him from a young age and I know what he is capable of and I can tell you that he has a bright future ahead of him. With Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan now approaching the end of their careers, it should have been Umar Akmal who should have been encouraged to take a senior role. What the management needs to do now is to make sure that they don't destroy his confidence and treat him properly so that he can serve the country to the best of his ability for many years to come."
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
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