Cricket is a funny game. It takes little time to turn a player into a hero. But it takes even lesser time to make him a villain in the eyes of the spectators.
Kamran Akmal went through such an oscillation — one of the many throughout his cricketing career - on Sunday.
The wicketkeeper-batsman was the central part of every pre-match analysis for the final of the third Pakistan Super League (PSL) because of his scintillating form with the bat. He had posted five fifty-plus scores in the tournament with three of them — including a century — coming in the must-win matches before entering the final.
This, of course, is no mean feat, especially, when you keep the Pakistani batting standards in mind.
Kamran was the leading run-scorer with 424 runs at an average 42.40 — just 0.15 runs behind Luke Ronchi - before his side Peshawar Zalmi and Islamabad United met in the final. His strike-rate of 158.20 runs per hundred balls was the second best, again behind Ronchi, among the batsmen to have scored more than 250 runs in the tournament.
But, things turned 180 degrees for Akmal when the much-anticipated final began in Karachi. He struggled for runs against Samit Patel and Mohammad Sami as all his shots found the fielders. His nine-ball stay at the crease for just one run came to an end in the third over when his desperation to find the fence made him attempt a paddle-sweep and found him trapped in front of stumps off Patel.
His side, however, posted a respectable 148 for 9 and successfully made a match of it from a point when it had looked like a cakewalk for Islamabad United. From none for 96, Islamabad batting slumped following Ronchi’s straight-forward catch to Andre Fletcher at point, and they were suddenly six down for 116.
Peshawar needed just one wicket to penetrate the tail and an opportunity arrived when the batting side required 30 off 33 balls. Asif Ali, who had impressed with his clean-hitting throughout the tournament, top-edged a pull-shot off Umaid Asif’s short-pitched delivery outside his off-stump. Running towards the fine-leg region, Akmal shouted as he went for the catch, pushing Sameen Gul away from the reach of the ball, only to drop a sitter in the end.
So abysmal was his judgement that he even failed to put his gloves under the ball that had stayed in the air for a considerable amount of time.
Asif then spanked Hassan Ali for three consecutive sixes in the next over to put an end to any doubts the fans had about the result of the match as Islamabad United chased down the total inside 17 overs to bag their second PSL title.
Despite ending the tournament with the best batsman of the tournament award and being the reason behind Peshawar Zalmi’s qualification for the final, Akmal came under heavy flak for his poor fielding effort on the crucial day.
An emerging player, perhaps, would have gotten away with such an error but Kamran was too experienced a cricketer to commit that blunder.
Peshawar Zalmi head coach and director Mohammad Akram termed the dropped chance to be the turning point of the match.
“It takes only a couple of overs in T20 cricket to shift the momentum of the game. This game had three or four of them. If we had taken that catch the pressure would have gone on to opposition,” he said when asked where he thought his side threw away the contest.
It may be mentioned here that Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur had long ruled out any notion of Akmal’s return to the national side. He clearly had said that the discarded wicketkeeper-batsman required consistent performances in all the aspects of the game to push his case for wearing the Pakistan colours again.
But, Sunday turned Akmal into a villain. It is ironical that it happened at the National Stadium Karachi where he had launched himself as a hero with a 148-ball 113 in the first innings against India.
That remarkable innings won him Man of the Match award as it not only took Pakistan out of a crisis from being six down for 39 but also scripted a 341-run win that won the hosts the three-match Test series 1-0.
In the backdrop of Sunday’s dropped catch, it seems that Akmal’s international career is unlikely to be ever revived now.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2018