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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The boy who cried milestones

For a boy tipped to emulate the legends, termed the best piece of talent touching wood this decade, and one oozing unprecedented fearlessness – be it at the crease or with his choice of lip balm – Umar Akmal’s fall has been shocking.
Drafted into the side following Pakistan’s 2009 World Twenty20 triumph, Akmal – with age, confidence and domestic milestones on his side – was handed an opportunity not many Pakistani debutants are given – playing for a side in its ascent.
Impressing straight away
A 66 in his second One-Day International was immediately followed by a swashbuckling 102. A century on Test debut – with a 75 in the second-innings – away from home predicted laurels for the boy, still in his teens. And despite stumbles en route the achievements, it seemed that Akmal – once the dressing-room jester, the boy who refused to grow up and concentrate – could be handed a responsibility as huge as shouldering a nation’s hopes.
With 555 runs in his first five Tests, more of the same was predicted. However, as Pakistan fell away at the turn of the year, so did Akmal, in a manner wretched and mortifying for his fans and the team management — just 267 runs in his next eight Tests.
The change that did not come
The aggression and the willingness remained. But so did the reluctance to adapt and to adjust. It was believed that things had changed at the Wanderers against the West Indies, but then his youth caught up with him.
Akmal’s waning at international level can be partly blamed for the lack of experience around him. When he glowed, he had the radiance of Mohammad Yousuf or Misbahul Haq around him. But as the Pakistan Cricket Board went astray, the glow was reduced to a mere flicker.
A sensational title-winning maiden domestic season for SNGPL comprised a double century – with a second denied by the mischief mongers – and brought him 855 runs. There, around him, were experienced individuals. Mohammad Hafeez and Misbah, and Azhar Shafiq to an extent, nourished and guided him. It did not change his approach, and neither did the constant bellowing, but there existed options for the 17-year-old to turn to.
Not after the Australian whitewash. Temporal punishments meant a revamped batting order and suddenly, the apprentice became the mentor. Expectations grew and reached an inequitable high and he still spoke of confidence eloquently, striding to the crease. But as the results failed to come for Pakistan, the outcome affected Akmal too. This time, there was no radiance around him but just promising sparks. There were no branches he could cling on to but seedlings that needed his comfort. The coaches shared their experience but, going solo, Akmal had to manoeuvre, navigate and accomplish all alone.
The problems
The attitude, defiance and traces of arrogance emanating from the young blood have to be blamed but so are the circumstances. With glory and uninterrupted dose of admiration shoved his way – every comment about the youngster pointed to a godly future – the head was found somewhere in the skies.
Akmal realised he had something special in him but failed to implement that on a constant basis, a trait that was badly needed by Pakistan given the circumstances. The eagerness to be one above the competition existed but the drive to get on with things, ironically, hampered the progress.
For Akmal to revive his career, he needs support. Even Sachin Tendulkar had to rely on the experience en route providential ascent to the skies.
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