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Akmal must shun reckless approach

September 16, 2012

Umar’s ODI form has been more than satisfactory (691 runs in 21 innings) with eight half-centuries. -File photo

PAKISTAN may boast of the second-best success ratio in the history of Twenty20 Internationals, but their prospects of grabbing their second world championship crown would arguably hinge on a number of factors.

Saeed Ajmal, the best spinner currently in world cricket, carries the main load for the men attired in green. Saeed is a proven performer whose deeds over the past year in all three forms of cricket are unmatched on the international arena.

But the same, unfortunately, can’t be said of Umar Akmal, the young batsman whose entry into international cricket three years ago was no less than sensational with a Test debut century (129 v New Zealand) at Dunedin which came on the heels of a maiden One-day International hundred (an unbeaten 102 at Colombo’s R. Premadasa Stadium) in only his third appearance three months earlier, on the tour of Sri Lanka.

Sadly, these are the only three-figure innings that Umar had thus managed in his chequered international career.

His impetuosity has already cost him a Test spot which was there for the taking; Umar hasn’t been part of that XI since the Bulawayo Test against Zimbabwe just over a year ago because he has failed to heed the advice to adopt a selective approach in shot-making.

This habitual recklessness at the crease has been a cause for concern for Pakistan because Umar’s Twenty20 form in reality is in decline. Since October 1, 2011 the diminutive right-hander has managed to muster just 93 runs (averaging a miserable 10.33) in nine innings of 10 Twenty20 Internationals.

His best T20 score in this period is 22 against England at Abu Dhabi last February. In contrast to his struggles in the shortest format, Umar’s ODI form has been more than satisfactory (691 runs in 21 innings) with eight half-centuries.

One debatable reason for Umar’s lack of runs in limited-overs cricket could be the batting order. In a well-publicised interview in April this year, the 22-year-old lamented that his spot at No 6 is two places too low.

“It’s a matter of the batting order that I’m not able to score big runs,” Umar had argued then. “When batting down the order, sometimes I have to bat in a crisis if the top order collapse. And sometimes I get fewer overs to bat otherwise I have the tendency to score in three figures.

“If I bat at the top of the order, then it would be easy for me to extend my innings and convert those 30s and 40s into substantial knocks,” he said.

However, the facts in Umar’s case present a different picture and his whole approach needs to change if he is to make an impact in the mega event.

Pakistan’s inexplicable capitulation in the final game of the recent T20 series against Australia in Dubai yet again exposed the brittleness of the team’s batting. Now Mohammad Hafeez and his men can’t afford a similar catastrophe at the ICC World Twenty20 or it will be curtains for them before they know it.

Overall, Pakistan’s track record in the briefest form is quite impressive though. Having already played the most number of Twenty20 Internationals to date — 58 to be précise — Pakistan’s success ratio of 60.34 is the best after South Africa’s 65.21. In addition, the only bowlers to claim 50 or more wickets in this format are all Pakistanis — Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi.

However, on the batting chart, Pakistan lag behind with Afridi’s 801 runs in 50 matches being the highest aggregate, followed by Misbah-ul-Haq (788 in 39), Kamran Akmal (778 in 41), Shoaib Malik (754 in 44) and Umar Akmal (714 in 34).

New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum is the leading Twenty20 International run-getter (1,443 in 48 matches) while the out-of-favour England star Kevin Pietersen (1176 in 36) is the only other player to make the four-figure mark.

Pakistan, despite their hot-and-cold style, are very much in contention for the coveted trophy. But they need all their resources to fire as a unit. They simply can’t afford a misfiring Umar Akmal who is already feeling the heat, mainly because of his own undoing.