Kamran Akmal eyes second PSL title with Zalmi

Updated February 19, 2020

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ISLAMABAD United’s Asif Ali survives a strong shout from Peshawar Zalmi wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal and bowler Liam Dawson during their practice match at the UBL Sports Complex on Tuesday.—Tahir Jamal / White Star
ISLAMABAD United’s Asif Ali survives a strong shout from Peshawar Zalmi wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal and bowler Liam Dawson during their practice match at the UBL Sports Complex on Tuesday.—Tahir Jamal / White Star

KARACHI: With his time in Pakistan colours now probably a thing of the past there is a fair degree of enthusiasm whatever Kamran Akmal does on the cricket field. Having turned 38 five weeks ago, the wicket-keeper/batsman still goes about his job with a smile.

The Peshawar Zalmi’s elder statesman had been one of the success stories of the HBL Pakistan Super League and unsurprisingly is the outright leader on the batting chart with a tally of 1286 runs in 47 matches while averaging 29.22 and enjoying a strike-rate of 134.51. He is only player with two centuries under belt.

The Lahore-born Kamran — who is oldest of the three brothers who also played for the country — maintains a calm exterior on his face. Now preparing for season V of the PSL, Kamran wants to help Peshawar win their second title.

“The three years we had after the inaugural season had been a sort of mixed feelings. Imagine making to the final in each of those seasons and losing twice was painful for the entire Zalmi family,” Kamran told Dawn in an interview on the sidelines of the practice game against Islamabad United at the UBL Sports complex here on Tuesday. “I remember us celebrating when we beat Quetta [Gladiators] in the 2017 final at the Gaddafi Stadium. There were great scenes and scores of people attired in yellow colours danced in joy.

“But the next two years were really heartbreaking for the Peshawar fans as lost back-to-back finals [against Islamabad in 2018 and Quetta in 2019]. Everyone in the camp just wondered and asked where we went wrong. But I think how Allah had planned our destiny and we cannot be complaining over that, can we?”

Kamran reminiscent the first PSL with a tinge of disappointment in his tone, when he revealed: “It was surely one of the lowest points of my career as professional cricketer because I hardly contributed with the bat [Kamran scored 151 runs in 10 innings at 16.77 with a best of 45]. The thoughts of quitting kept creeping inside me. But Peshawar team management quickly talked me out of it.

“They are simply wonderful people in this respect. I mean the way Javed Afridi [team owner] motivated me then was beyond description. He kept urging me by saying ‘you will come back much stronger next season’. Those words still echo in my ears whenever I think of those depressing times.

“The other reason of my PSL career resurgence was the change in strategies. I batted in the middle order in the first year and hopelessly looked out of place, to be honest. Before the 2017 season, Darren Sammy was named as the captain. Darren and Haji [head coach Mohammad Akram] both felt it would be a good move to send me at the top of the order.

“I rate that decision among the most critical ones of my career because it allowed me to express myself with freedom. I say with pride that it changed my entire perception about T20 cricket. People think it is a great platform to blood the youngsters. I agree partly on this notion since my ideology on this that if young players are to be properly groomed, the best route should be to let them have a taste of PSL initially and then developed them through four-day and one-day cricket before considering them for international cricket.

“In our culture this philosophy is hardly adopted because we believe in a ‘picking them young’ policy without realising the consequences in the long run. This must change if Pakistan are to compete consistently with the top sides across all formats,” Kamran advised.

When asked to reveal his best ever innings in the PSL, Kamran bracketed two he played in the playoffs. “Both came against Karachi Kings in the eliminator fixtures. The 104 [off 65 balls] in Dubai in 2017 helped Zalmi post enough total to defend [in the end they won by 34 runs]. The one in Lahore in 2018 was a sensational game because it rained a lot then and the match was reduced to 16 overs per side.

“Sensing the need for quick runs, I made 77 from about 25 balls [27 to e précised] as we reached 170-2 and then contained them to 157.”

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2020