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Let the star shine

Published Dec 16, 2011 08:05am


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WACK! The ball met the middle of a swivelling blade and deposited itself beyond the empty stands on the mid-wicket fence at the University Oval, Dunedin. The bowler walking back to his mark, shoulders for once drooped in resignation at the audacity of the stroke, was Daniel Vettori. He was witnessing, according to the experts in the commentary box, one of the best young talents to have crossed this side of the Tasman Sea since a similarly curly haired teenager by the name of Sachin Tendulkar dazzled the hosts with his breathtaking array of strokes.

This 19-year old, hailed not from the Mumbai School of Batsmanship, but the bustling streets of Lahore. Umar Akmal then went on to score a rollicking 129 on this first outing in Pakistani whites. Today, a little over two years on from that sunny afternoon, the same Akmal finds himself flung out of the Test squad and the golden debut knock remains the solitary mark in the Test hundreds column.

A lot has been written and said about Umar’s temperament. Mohsin Khan, the current Pakistan cricket team coach has said that “the young batsman has to stop being selfish and learn to play the big innings.” Similarly, former coach Waqar Younis stressed how “Umar’s head was not in the right place” going in line with Basit Ali’s recent comments about how the younger Akmal needs “to work on his mentality, before hoping for a rebirth in the Test side.”

Clearly Umar has some fixing to do, but is the war raging within him the only problem? To answer this question think back to an Umar Akmal innings that you can recall off the top of your head. Do you remember his maiden one-day fifty against Sri Lanka where he dispatched the magician Muttiah Muralitharan back over his head, Inzi-style? How about the scintillating first-innings knock at the Boxing Day Test? Or the gutsy 44 from earlier this year that saw Pakistan end Australia’s 34-match World Cup winning streak.

Random innings that have come to signify the one thing common about the majority of Umar Akmal’s stays at the crease — overwhelming and undeniable pressures of having to keep afloat a sinking ship. When he first made his debut the fans rightly thought it was only a matter of time before Umar would get a nod to move up the order. Surely a batsman of his talent and bravado would be better suited to setting up an innings rather than having to constantly chase at its coattails. Who would have known the wait would prove to be endless.

Those who choose to constantly criticise his aggressive play and at times choice of “irresponsible” stroke play don’t realise the sheer burden and mental pressures that go with being a batsman. Rarely does any facet of cricket match up to the sheer concentration and mental grit required in crafting up a solid knock. It is a constant battle, not just against the bowlers, but more significantly with the self, scrutinising every little decision. It is in such testing times that keeping things simple and following one’s instinct become key to survival.

Of course what this also means is that batsmen, like wine, mature with age. Sehwag, the embodiment of simplicity, when modestly referring to his breathtaking knock a few days back agreed: “A batsman will only be able to score a double hundred after crossing the age of 30.” Pinpointing a set age of course is debatable, given the subjectivity of mental toughness gained through experience, but what the statement alludes to is the simple fact that one should not disregard the junior Akmal’s age. At 21 he is still very much part of the learning curve and developing his trade.

What the management, and yes the finger is squarely pointed at Waqar Younis’s time as coach, was supposed to do was give Umar Akmal the freedom to play his natural game. Provide the wonder-kid a license to follow his exuberance and panache, which is not available down at five or six. Surely, steering away from the unnecessary complexities of batting under pressure, and making things as uncluttered as possible for the team’s best batsman is the requirement of the time. Even Umar himself, cottoning on for it wasn’t rocket science, begged for “a promotion in the batting order” that would suit his style of play and accordingly result in him “scoring runs consistently”. His plea however, like the ones’ of so many infuriated fans before him, fell on deaf ears.

Umar unfortunately is not the only such case. Since his arrival over a year ago, Pakistan’s other young batting talent; Asad Shafiq has been obligingly taking hits like the team’s designated punching bag. Having been passed around like the photograph of a prospective groom, Shafiq still hasn’t found his slot in the team. The latest confidence-shattering move, in the development of who surely is a shoo-in number five batsman, is the added responsibility of opening the batting. Why should Shoaib Malik, currently averaging an abysmal four since his return, with three international hundreds opening the innings be asked to put his hand up when the young team scapegoat is there to be taken advantage of.

If Pakistan is to harbour any plans of building a competitive unit, worthy of contending in all conditions, fluency in their batting and lack of ability to set the pace remain the biggest chinks in the armour. The correct utilisation of Umar’s talent is key to fixing this major flaw and set Pakistan rolling on the right path. It is the laidback approach that has plagued Pakistani batting over the years, even managing to diminish the glow of the exuberant 19-year old who took guard in Dunedin two winters ago. Let’s hope, for Pakistan cricket’s sake, the star within hasn’t completely burnt out.


A Cricket nut since Aqib Javed's bucket hair style and Wasim bhai's poetic action took his fancy; the writer fit only for a slogger is pretending to be a top order bat Down Under. He blogs here.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (28) Closed

rahul jha Dec 16, 2011 02:05pm
umar shud be batting at 4 ala sachin and given a reasonably long licence to find his feet. Along with rohit sharma and virat he is the genaeration next of subcontinental greats
Asjad Khan Dec 16, 2011 02:05pm
I would agree that Umer Akmal does need a promotion in the batting order but Asad Shafiq at 5 would be too low for him. He doesnt have the power of Umer and would be a misfit in trying to finish the innings with over the boundary shots!
Hussain Dec 16, 2011 03:33pm
you dont need to let the star shine... his ego is already bigger than K2
HAMID NAVEED Dec 16, 2011 04:09pm
Here’s my response: Shoaib your observation and knowledge about cricket is awesome I am agree with you write about other pakistani team too.shahbash and thank you for the DAWN.Waiting for your next blog.Thanks
Morfi Dec 16, 2011 04:53pm
Umar has a lot of potential, and yet, he has a greater ego. He needs to respect his wicket and his team while playing his natural game. His recent Innings against SL when he threw away the match after being 91* speaks volumes. True, he was shattered after that, but I hope he learnt his lesson from there. He will soon be batting at 4 for Pakistan in ODIs, the moment he lives up to his promise and shows responsibility.
Ravi Banger Dec 16, 2011 07:39pm
This boy is the best thing that has happened to Pakistan Cricket since Javed Miandad as far as batting is concerned. He is elegant in stance, compact, good in technical terms and has got hunger for runs. All he needs to do is to conquer the demons in his head. We might have a la "Zaheer Abbas" if only he could train his mind and eschews from useless, crowd pleasing strokes which have taken its toll on him. I wish him all the success.
Baqar Dec 16, 2011 08:07pm
Well ...... Nice write Shoaib... but this little champ need to learn alot as his temperament and patience are quite low.... he should watch Muhammad Yousuf, Inzi and great Javed Miandad innings to polich his abilities and most importantly he should feel his resposibilities at the crease.... we all remember the incidents where he pretended an injury just because his elder brother not playing... these things should be discouraged; after all playing for the country is the PRIME job.
Imtiaz Dec 16, 2011 09:16pm
His brother did lot of 'fixing' (specially the Sydney Test in which Umar was his 'brother's keeper'. Why is he still in the team, it can happen only in Pakistan, like famous five (Saeed Anwar, Waseem Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam ul Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed) were let off off by Judge Qayyum. Does Pakistan media lack brains?
amir Dec 16, 2011 10:07pm
If we look at the modern day greats of Indian cricket, Sachin,Dravid,Laxman,Sehwag,, one thing that is common among them is their humility.. Where the only speak with their bats..Those are the benchmarks that need to be set for our batsman. Talk less ,act more. Unfortunately we in in Pakistan do not believe in that. We just like to talk. And that too ,we talk nonsense. We make stars out of people from one or two innings. Aamer was made Akram , Umer made a Sachin. In branding these young people who have absolutely no education or any guidance about conducting themselves around people,we confuse them and rob them of their own identity. Humility,Humilty,Humilty... thats what was missing from the players of our recent past.. however with a leader who is educated and humble, and most players who seem to have their footing on the ground,it is a culture that needs to get in our system... Unless we drill in our youngsters with the culture of humilty,, i'm afraid we will keep losing a lot of Akmals and Aamir's.
amer Dec 16, 2011 10:49pm
talented yes - selfish definitely ... those who disagree should look back at the world cup when after winning the match all he was concerned about was "who man of the match; who man of the match"
Syed Ali Sajjad Dec 16, 2011 11:32pm
i partially agree with your thoughts,but i think he needs to change his attitude towards the game.
Faheem Dec 16, 2011 11:58pm
Umer is no doubt a shining star. The only thing that will let him shine even brighter is freedom. No one would disagree that freedom and creativity go hand in hand. We should focus and build a dependable and sustainable top order instead of pressurizing a poor guy who seldom finds himself at ease to play his natural game. The allegation on him for being selfish is unjustified. He is a flamboyant player who likes to play his shots and he must be given as much of freedom as much he asks for.
Pakistani Dec 17, 2011 12:39am
and where is suresh raina in that list?
khalid bashir Dec 17, 2011 02:15am
he is great talent.he should be playing all 3 formats of the gamewe are wasting him by not playing him in tests. He is much better than asad shafiq.I hope the selectors soon realize this.
Imran A. Dec 17, 2011 02:23am
I just want to comment on the statement "the young batsman has to stop being selfish and learn to play the big innings". What does he mean? Young Akmal should not be kanjuce? I mean in any language it is a totally misplaced word. In my opinion if a player is selfish, he would try to get maximum runs and not care he management or anyone is against him. Secondly I would like everyone to stop picking on Umar Akmal (including you Sir). Let him play his game the way he feels like. He is doing a good job and serving the team well.
M Farooq Gill Dec 17, 2011 02:49am
Very Well Said about U. Akmal and Asad Shafiq. Surely akmal should bat at number 4 at-least. And Asad deserve to be in the team in every match. He is Pakistan's future please don't waste him.
Nabil Dec 17, 2011 03:07am
Umar Akmal will NEVER be a consistent or a great player. Why? Because like his brother Kamran Akmal, Umar is a match fixer. Pakistan cricket will reap very little benefit from this fixer, the whole Akmal family should be permenantly barred from cricket.
Manoj Verma Dec 17, 2011 09:34am
May be Umar Akmal loaded with tons of talent,but he has to prove himself by making contribution to Pakistan winning more matches for his side. At present i put Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli ahead of Ukmal.
Shaer Khan Dec 17, 2011 11:00am
What about Fawad Alam? What is his fault, how come he is not a getting chance to play for Pakistan.
Ali Dec 17, 2011 06:17pm
sending Umar down the order does not "discipline" the youngster in any way.. seriously we shouldn't punish the guy just because he acts up and seeks a bit of grandeur.. he is 21, full of testosterone and as is evident from his latest performances: ripe for the picking.. we have every reason to give the guy more responsibility and let his experience shape him as a confident batsmen.. but no.. we will punish the poor boy and call him reckless for the rest of his life
Wahab Dec 17, 2011 10:58pm
Comparing Umar and Asad, Lets take both of their last 20 ODI performances ... RUNS Umar (57,59,7,61,2,7,91,36,7,60,24,30,17,29,44,38,48,10,71,8)-- Asad (7,26,51,4,71,0,23,61,30,46,78,26,4,36,43,1,19,0,11,40)...... Accumulate all these 20 innings runs Umar has 706 runs including 6 (50's) Asad Has 577 runs including 4 (50's) DUCKS Umar never gone for DUCK in last 20 ODIs Asad gone for duck twice in last 20 ODIs CATCHES Umar took 9 catches in last 20 ODIs Asad took 4 catches in last 20 ODIs So who is the better player then .... you got your answer UMAR please dont ask for fawad alam .. he does not stand anywhere near these two great batsman
gabby Dec 17, 2011 11:40pm
Excellent article Shoaib. There is no doubt that Umar Akmal is the next big find for Pakistan since Inzamam and Yousaf but like many other fans, we would like to see him get cleared from spot fixing allegations first. He , along with Asad Shafiq and Fawad Alam should form the backbone of Pakistan middle order batting lineup. I am glad to see that someone took notice of how Asad Shafiq have been misused in limited overs format, giving him chance in the last match of a tour only and that too at challenging opening slot. Further, our renowned commentator(Ramiz raja) does not feel any shame in hiding his personal bias against the highly talented young batman by criticizing him constantly.
niazi Dec 18, 2011 01:14am
he is immature street kid who never knows what does discipline mean
Indian Dec 18, 2011 09:52am
B'caz Ruresh Raina is not quality batsman, he is "lappa", he is not going to hang around for long. I have seen Umar, he is a class; unfortunately prevailing situation in Pakistan not conducive to create great minds, which can make a talented cricketer a great player. If you look in India, guys like Sachin had wisdom from Sunil, Ravi and Kapil and they learnt from them while in Pakistan Imran was capable of it but he chose politics over cricket and Miandad is not great mind he is fortunate he succeeded alot may be due to Imran's presence. So in brief, if you want to be great, conquer your mind first and rest will fall in line as per talent God has gifted to you. Amer, Asif and Butt all had talent but they could not conquer mind and lost. Is there anyone in Pakistan who can mentor this guy? I don't see any! Wasim could but he "talking" guy does little for Pak cricket and comments alot. So good luck Umar, be God with you.
Aftab qureshi Dec 19, 2011 12:05am
Selectors please......bring Umar back to the test team for the Pak India series and be patient with him.
raja Dec 20, 2011 04:21am
Hi, Umar Akmal hasn't proven anything. Let's not turn him into a super star overnight. He has DONE anything. Let him learn to be consistent in test matches before he's givin chance in test matches. There is no comparison between him and Viral Kohli. Virat is proven talen and match winner. Being a pakistani, I'm sick of one match wonders. We need consistency before we make these young players into superstars. Enough said. Dec 22, 2011 02:09pm
well, over all nice article with lots of comments from different people... I personally believe all three Akmal brothers should be in team provided if free from their involvement in any type of diciplinary cases. Even the senior one is excellant batsman and he can be included as a batsman in the team (see his bating record in the past). I hope it is really unfair if they r dropped just because of the politics/favouratism. Jamal
Infinity Dec 26, 2011 04:37pm
Great words on great talent .......... no doubt umer akmal is the future of Pak Cricket ....... PCB needs to groom and encourage more fluent batters rather thn bore batters ........ i m still in favor of bringing umer back to test squad ........ i think modern test cricket has been changed .......... and the best cue for test victory is to play aggressive cricket ......... and i think umer is the best option ......... he must play at no 5 in both test and odi ........