of the Titans
Big guns need to be
Umar Akmal showed great promise when he debuted for Pakistan back in 2009. Itís time that he starts delivering consistently.
By Bilal Hussain
Akmal scored a superb century on debut against New Zealand in Dunedin
back in 2009, he was hailed as the next best thing for Pakistan cricket.
He was just 19 at that time but had been knocking at the doors of
international cricket for quite a while. Experts rated him as a very
promising youngster and the way he made his entrance to world cricket
gave weight to that tag. Three years on, Umar remains as a talented
youngster yet to really deliver on the promise.
Look at his figures.
Umar began with a bang when he struck a career-best 129 against New
Zealand in what his very first Test. That was not all. The diminutive
batter once again displayed his attacking style in an impressive knock
of 75 in the second innings of that Test. Pakistan lost that match but
Umar earned a lot of accolades. Unfortunately, he has played 15 more
Tests since that successful debut but Umar is yet to score another
hundred. He has scored 1003 runs from 16 Tests at 35.82.
International story is quite similar. Umar scored an unbeaten 102 in
just his third ODI appearance -- against Sri Lanka in Colombo in the
summer of 2009. But since then he has failed to score any more ODI tons
due to his inability to convert fifties into hundreds. The Lahore-born
batter has 16 ODI fifties. He has accumulated 1976 runs from 70 ODI
appearances at an average of 38.00.
These are pretty
mediocre averages for a player, who is seen by some as the most talented
batsman in Pakistan's line-up.
The problem with Umar
is that he has failed to mature into a more reliable batsman that
Pakistan so desperately need in their middle-order, especially due to
the fact that seniors batsmen like Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq are now
in their twilight years.
Normally when it comes
to Pakistan cricket, players don't get ample chances if they are
unprolific. But Umar has been much luckier. He has more or less been a
regular feature of the Pakistan team at least in limited-overs formats
during the last three years. By now, he should have been playing the
sort of role for Pakistan that Virat Kohli is performing for the
Indians. Kohli is just a year older than Umar and has played lesser
number of Tests and Twenty20 Internationals than the Pakistani
youngster. But within a span of just ten Test appearances, Kohli hasn't
just cemented his place in the Indian batting line-up but has become his
side's star performer after having almost overshadowed the likes of
Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag with his recent heroics with the
Just take a look at
his figures. The Delhi-born Kohli has scored five hundreds in his last
nine ODI outings. In his last seven Test innings, he has scored fifty or
above on six occasions -- two of them being hundreds. In contrast, Umar
has failed to score a single hundred in his last 67 ODI appearances. In
six of his last 20 outings, he has failed to reach double figures.
So what's wrong with
Umar Akmal? Some experts blame his careless approach while others find
flaws with his technique. I believe it's a combination of several
factors. Umar certainly needs to learn to value his wicket which means
the careless approach will have to go. He may still be 22 but he is not
a rookie any more. His technique, too, needs improvement.
In addition, the
national team management will have to tell Umar in clear words that he
can't take his place in the line-up for granted. Pakistan may be short
on world-class batters but players like Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali are
serving them better than their misfiring teammates like Umar Akmal.
And it seems that
things are changing. Last Friday, Umar was joined by his namesake Umar
Gul as the duo lifted Pakistan out of deep trouble to help them beat
South Africa by two wickets in a thrilling World Twenty20 encounter in
Colombo. Gul got out after a sizzling knock but the younger Umar kept
his nerves and took Pakistan to victory. He should be doing that more
Cricket is by
far the most popular sport in the sub-continent. No other form of
entertainment creates as much excitement and enthusiasm in this part of
the world as cricket does. This excitement reaches its peak when there
is a match between Pakistan and India. People of both countries take it
as a war even if it is only a round match of a tournament.
The expectations of
the people put extra pressure on both sides. Both sides have always had
huge talent, but at the end of the day it is more a battle of nerves
The encounter between
the two sides in the Super Eights on Sunday is going to be a clash
between Pakistan's formidable bowling and India's intimidating batting.
Pakistan have the
services of three top T20 bowlers: Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul and Shahid
And Indians have
Virender Sehwag, Virat Kholi, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and skipper MS
Dhoni -- the best T20 batting line.
I am sure this match
will attract largest number of viewers for this tournament -- if there
is not another Pakistan-India clash in the final.
In the warm-up match
of the World T20, Pakistan beat India, but Pakistan have never beaten
India in a World Cup game, not in 50-overs game, nor in T20.
Pakistan and India
have met four times in World Cups from 1992 to 2011 and India have
always won. In the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in 2007, Pakistan lost
to India in the final.
In 1996 World Cup
quarter-final in Bangalore, Aamir Sohail smashed a delivery from Indian
seamer Venkatesh Prasad through the covers for a four.
After this, he pointed
his bat towards Prasad and the boundary where the ball had gone. On the
very next delivery, Prasad bowled out Sohail and pointed his finger
towards the pavilion.
In the same match,
Ajay Jadeja had hit Waqar Younis for 18 & 22 in 48th & 50th
Ajay Jadeja's 45
eventually proved to be the difference as Pakistan lost by 39 runs.
The two rivals then
met in a group game of the 2003 Cricket World Cup at Centurion.
India were chasing 273
against a classy Pakistani pace attack comprising Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib
and Razzaq. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag gave a flying start of
53 in 5 overs, demoralizing Pakistan's bowlers, hitting sixes and fours
off Shoaib Akhtar.
India eventually won
the game with four overs to spare.
The First T20 World
Cup was played in 2007 in South Africa and the first T20 match between
Pakistan and India ended in tie. The bowl-out took place, which India
won by 3-0.
The teams met again in
the final. Pakistan needed 6 runs off 4 balls with 1 wicket remaining.
Misbah ul-Haq, on 53, was on strike. He got out on the fourth ball of
Joginder Sharma and India won the match.
The last World Cup
clash between the two teams came in the semifinal at Mohali in 2011.
Under Afridi's leadership too, Pakistan failed to break the jinx and
lost the game by 29 runs.
Pakistani players and
fans are desperate to avenge all their previous World Cup defeats and
the Greenshirts can do it if the batting and the fielding provide full
support to the bowling.
It took eight
days for the World Twenty20 to get to the eight teams we knew would play
the next stage. We yearned for the established teams to squirm a bit,
maybe even get embarrassed. Why, we wouldn't even have minded if one got
knocked out because it would have meant the game had got more
competitive. But apart from a tiny little period of play from the
spirited Afghans against India, we yearned in vain. There is still no
challenge to the established forces, and that isn't great news for a
global sport. A hundred countries may play cricket but it is still
really only eight.
Of the four countries
that made early exits, two (Afghanistan and Ireland) need more cricket
and two (Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) need to be challenged.
I think Ireland have a
point when they say they don't get enough cricket against better teams.
It is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately because otherwise
they will continue to lose players to England. Eoin Morgan has been
lost, now Boyd Rankin has quit, and at some point George Dockrell is
going to think about whether he can fulfil his dreams with the limited
opportunities he gets.
We saw too that in the
limited cricket world they have seen, Afghanistan have made impressive
strides. They deserve to be tested more at another level. They looked
far from ready against England, and they will continue to be that way
against teams with pace and bounce, but they have shown spirit, and a
couple of players have caught the eye.
But the problem in
world cricket outside the top eight is not as much with Ireland or
Afghanistan or Netherlands or anyone else seeking to break in but with
those already in but not looking the part. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh were
terribly disappointing and I suspect for their own development they need
to be asked some hard questions. At least Zimbabwe can point to
political and allied issues but Bangladesh can't. They have the funds,
the facilities and the opportunities but not the results.
Like Indians and
Pakistanis, Bangladeshis are great cricket lovers. They love watching
cricket, they support it well, and they deserve more from the team that
is out playing for them. It is now 12 years since they played their
first Test and their win-loss record is 3-63. Losing 63 out of 73 Tests
played, many at home, is a woeful record. They do a bit better in
one-day internationals with 72 wins to 188 losses but if you take the
top eight cricket nations only, their record plunges to 20 out of 152.
In their Test batting averages only four players (who have played ten or
more Tests) make it past 30. Two of those don't reach 31 and no one is
close to 40. Only one of their bowlers averages in the vicinity of 30.
It gets worse. Of the three slots left (batting average over 30, bowling
average around 30) Shakib Al Hasan fills two.
At a similar stage in
their development, Sri Lanka had a win-loss figure of 4-27 out of 55
Tests, which wasn't great but was better. But, critically, they had
already produced Roy Dias, Duleep Mendis, Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna
Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama, Sanath Jayasuriya, Asanka Gurusinha, Hashan
Tillakaratne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas. The base had been
laid and they were ready to move on. Bangladesh have Shakib and
occasionally Tamim Iqbal, and really, that's it.
I got the feeling here
that everyone other than Shakib was batting two places higher than
ideal. In good teams batsmen seem to be batting one position lower than
where they are capable of playing. With Bangladesh it was the other way
around. Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah at Nos. 4 and 5 suggested there
aren't batsmen to fill those positions.
They spark sometimes,
do Bangladesh, like they did at home during the Asia Cup, when they beat
India and Sri Lanka and almost beat Pakistan in the final. But their
next world-class player isn't yet in sight and I think it might benefit
their cricket if they are challenged a bit more; if it is suggested to
them that they need to prove they are closer to the top eight than to
the next four, or that else they might have to play more in the little
A small threat might
jolt them into looking at the system that produces cricketers and in
being fairer to their many fans who so dutifully and admirably sustain
the game there.
World cricket needs
the top eight to be challenged more if ICC events have to be more
competitive. In two and a half years we will again have 14 teams at the
World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and you cannot have a
competition that is waiting to begin halfway into its fixtures.
I had thought that T20
would make world events like this one more competitive. It didn't happen
in Sri Lanka. Ė Cricinfo