Before his debut in 2009, Umar Akmal was definitely one of the hottest prospects ─ if not the hottest one ─ in Pakistani cricket.
The swashbucklinbg right-handed batsman from Lahore, who was 19 then, absolutely thrashed bowlers in the domestic circuit and was also a part of the Pakistan Under-19 side in the World Cup 2008 campaign.
Kamran Akmal’s younger brother, with his innate skill, was seen as a successor to former skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq who ended his stellar career in 2007.
Akmal’s debut series was against Sri Lanka and the young lad couldn’t resist displaying his natural flamboyance on the pitch, scoring a blistering 102 in what was only his third ODI.
That innings was not just about Akmal’s high score — his street smart and free-flowing hands roused excitement around the cricketing world, raising comparisons with the likes of Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas.
Akmal introduced himself in the Test arena in a similar manner, scoring 129 and 75 against New Zealand at Dunedin in November 2009.
Fans were thrilled to have someone with technical soundness and aggression in the team’s batting line-up.
However, the middle-order batsman’s consistency began wavering, and posting big scores became a rare occurrence for the right-hander.
His loss of ability to make a positive impact in matches was paired with complaints regarding his discipline and lack of seriousness.
Akmal, however, believes his loss of form is down to lack of confidence in his abilities. The Lahori feels he has not been backed by fans and Pakistani media after his involvement in unethical activities on several occasions.
“The media needs to stop highlighting every little situation and making a big deal out of it,” he said in an interview to Pakpassion.net.
“Us cricketers have families too and it’s not nice for them to see negative stories being brought up and highlighted in the media.”
“Our families struggle to cope with controversies which the media seems to thrive on,” Akmal added.
He said his form would improve if he got enough support from the media in particular. “I would urge the Pakistani media to support Pakistani cricketers and help us in taking Pakistan cricket forward,” the 26-year-old said.
“I need support from the media and if I get that then you will definitely see positive results.”
The Lahore-born cricketer did not seem happy with current teammates and management staff and said that he missed some former players who had bucked him up in his early days in international cricket, claiming that it helped encourage good performances.
Talking about his explosive Test debut Akmal said: “My Test debut was a special moment for me. My brother Kamran was with me at the crease when I reached three figures and senior players like Mohammad Yousuf and Shoaib Malik were around me and they offered me so much support and guidance.”
“I cannot express in words just how much confidence those senior players gave me.”
Akmal believes that for him to perform well, every stakeholder should support him completely. “Confidence for a player comes from your captain, the management, the coaching staff, your cricket board and the media… Us players just need confidence that’s all.”
The right-hander is currently in England, playing for Leicestershire in the on-going Natwest T20 blast.
He has scored 86 runs in his four outings for the county side, including a 52 not out in his first match.
Scoring runs in the shorter format in England can prove beneficial for Akmal as Pakistan will play five ODIs and a T20 after a four-match Test series against England in an upcoming tour next month.
Having not been named in the Test squad and also ignored for the recent Pakistan boot camp at PMA Kakul, Akmal is still hopeful that he will make it to the national side for the limited overs games.
“Only the squad has been announced ahead of the Test series, so you never know,” he said. “I live in hope, I always do.”
Younis, de Villiers Akmal’s Test idols
Umar Akmal’s Test form also took a nosedive a year after his debut, but the right-hander may be able to use the lack of opportunity as an excuse for not being able to prove himself in the longer format.
The 26-year-old was dropped after playing 16 Tests and has been considered as a limited overs specialist since then.
However, Akmal thinks he has the ability to put up big scores in the traditional Test format and wants to see his name amongst the likes of compatriot Younis Khan and South Africa’s AB de Villiers.
“I always wanted to emulate the achievements of Younis Khan in Test cricket and still do,” he said. “I also follow AB de Villiers a lot and he’s another great example to me. These are two individuals whose achievements I want to emulate and time is still on my side.”
Akmal, who has scored 2,913 ODI runs at an average of 34.67 for his country said he needed ‘another chance’ to prove his mettle and regain his place in the national squad and also in the hearts of the cricket crazy Pakistani fans.
“I just want another chance to perform and to show people that I am still capable of performing in international cricket,” he said.