Why has Umar Akmal disappeared from Test cricket?

Published: December 28, 2016
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It saddens me to see such a talent being wasted, especially considering Pakistan’s batting stocks are so low. PHOTO: AFP.

In 2009, I watched a 19-year-old batsman score a century during his Test debut in New Zealand. He took on the likes of Shane Bond, and made it look relatively easy. Umar Akmal blitzed his way through to 129 on debut, and followed it up with 75 in the second innings. A star was born, or so I thought.

Fast-forward seven years and the same cricketer is struggling to score runs in the Bangladesh Premier League. How times change. It saddens me to see such a talent being wasted, especially considering Pakistan’s batting stocks are so low. But how did it happen? Has Umar let himself down?

The simple answer is no. I believe the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has mistreated him, and as a result of this, Pakistan has lost one of their best upcoming cricketers.

Yes, I believe some of the blame lies with him. He claims he wants to play Test cricket for Pakistan, but then neglects first-class cricket for T20 leagues around the world. This shows his priorities are wrong and that he needs better advisors who can help guide his career.

Umar Akmal carves it through the off side, Sri Lanka v Pakistan, first T20I, Colombo, July 30, 2015
Photo: AFP

This injustice has been prevalent during various stages of his career. In 2013, Umar was the highest ranked Pakistani batsman, positioned at number 10 in the International Cricket Council (ICC) ODI rankings. Despite this, he was dropped for the ICC Champions Trophy based on “poor domestic form”. Should domestic form matter when one is already performing well on the international stage?

I was shocked by his omission. The team felt the full force of his exclusion, as they lost all three games in the tournament. Umar returned for the next bilateral series, and proved his worth scoring 175 runs, and in the process leading Pakistan to a series victory against the West Indies.

Umar Akmal makes room for himself to hit the ball through the off side, West Indies v Pakistan, 2nd ODI, Providence, July 16, 2013
Photo: AFP

For me, the most surprising factor regarding Umar’s treatment is his exclusion from Test cricket. Yes, his form dipped after his initial few tours, but once a player has shown he has the talent, he must be backed and supported. This persists as a fundamental issue in his career; he hasn’t received the right support from the coaches or the PCB.

In May 2011, Pakistan took on West Indies in a two match Test series. Umar toured the West Indies, and finished as the second highest run scorer, only 15 short of Misbahul Haq’s 181 runs.

Misbahul Haq and Umar Akmal put on 152 for the fourth wicket, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, Asia Cup, Mirpur, March 15, 2012
Photo: AFP

Things seemed to be back on track for him after an average Test series in the United Kingdom, and he was confident about going on his tour in Zimbabwe, which was played four months later.

Umar played the first Test, and was batting on 15 until he pulled a short ball off a spinner, which hit the short leg fielders shoulder, and popped up for an easy rebound catch. It was one of the unluckiest dismissals I’ve ever seen. Here is the cricinfo commentary of that delivery:

“120.1 that is a quite bizarre dismissal, short ball pulled straight in to forward short leg’s shoulder, and it pops up to Taylor at leg gully, who holds on to the rebound, Umar cannot believe his wretched luck, shades of Tendulkar getting out against Australia, Mumbai 2001.”

This turned out to be Umar’s last appearance, and he hasn’t played Test cricket since. Six years of punishment for one dismissal. Is this really how a young cricketer should be treated?

In the meanwhile, the likes of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have been given numerous chances to prove themselves, despite the odd failure.

What makes it more remarkable is the fact that Umar played all bar one innings away from the subcontinent, in tough testing conditions. His average away from home is 41. In comparison, Azhar averages at 41.98 and Asad at 38.

The last few years haven’t been ideal for the youngest of the Akmal brothers. His ODI average has taken a dip from 39 to 34, while his strike rate still remains highly impressive in the 80’s. I’ve been extremely surprised that he was never given a chance to bat up the order in ODI cricket. He publically stated that he wants to bat at number three or four, and I believe this position suits him best.

Umar Akmal attacks on the leg side, Pakistan v South Africa, first T20I, Dubai, November 13, 2013
Photo: AFP

Umar’s biggest strength is the way he handles pace bowling. He can cut and pull the ball with ease, and he is one who enjoys pace on the ball.

Umar Akmal took four catches, Ireland v Pakistan, World Cup 2015, Group B, Adelaide, March 15, 2015
Photo: AFP

The Pakistan think tank has an illusion that a fast paced scorer is a ‘slogger’, and thus they are pushed down the order. A similar thing happened to Sohaib Maqsood, who impressed scoring two 50’s in his first two outings batting at number 3. He was subsequently demoted down the order, and his performances took a dip. Both are proper batsmen, and should be treated as such. If you want Umar Akmal to build an innings, let him bat up the order.

I strongly believe a lot of the problems are personal. I remember his domestic coach at Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL), Basit Ali, telling Umar to “play club cricket”, essentially stating he’s not good enough for the domestic side. What makes that statement even more ridiculous is the fact that Umar has scored 3216 runs at an average of 45.29 for SNGPL.

I’m unsure as to where Umar can go from here. We’ve seen many talented cricketers from Pakistan go to waste over the years; I don’t want to add Umar to that list. He will, unless he gains the support from the PCB. He is a match-winner, and should be treated as such. The world deserves to see Umar Akmal.

Haroon Ahmed

Haroon Ahmed

The author is a freelance journalist based in Birmingham. He specialises in sports journalism and has previously been published by reputable companies. He tweets @hazharoon.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Muhammad

    Anyone speaking on behalf of Akmal’s inclusion in the team again needs to get their head checked. I would not be in favor of his return even if he is forecasted to score 10,000 in a single calendar year. Integrity and professionalism topple all talent, which in this case is a lost cause now.Recommend

  • Ajmal Khan

    Numerous disciplinary issues, putting himself over the country/team, and being a general disruption to the team. Are these the qualities you want in the Pakistan team?

    No one should be above the country and team and until his attitude improves there are other equally (or more) talented and dedicated players who deserve a chance to represent Pakistan. This is an ignorant and biased article.Recommend

  • Adnan Aziz Ahmed

    Agreed. He is a very talented cricketer and makes some of our other batsman look like dunderheads. He has the ability to accelerate the run rate and take the attack to the bowlers. At the present time, there is nobody else in the line-up who has the same fluidity except perhaps for Babar Azam. There a too many ‘mini-Misbahs’ who only know how to block and consume overs. Don’t get me wrong: we need a Misbah to hold the innings together but we also need the Umar Akmal’s of this world to keep the score board moving- and take Pakistan to victory!Recommend

  • Ammar

    good point raised abt umar akmal…this topic was not even in news
    i disagree on ur comment regarding Azhar Ali…Azhar was no failure since start..he was giving consistent performnce and the level now hav improved
    Umar akmal was sacrificed and ignored bcz of asad shafiq..being a better batsman umar was always sent at lower order..he didnot got proper chnce at no.4…to sette asad in odi umar ws sent down in order…
    in test he was even droped from the squad whch was bad decision…Recommend

  • Joji

    Its really sad to read such articles comparing Umar Akmal with Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali. Umar Akmal is the epitome of throwing away his talent by the lack of intent and preseverance. He comes off as arrogant and not a team player. Remember the fiasco where he made an excuse of pulled back after his brother Kamran Akmal was dropped? Numerous times he has the opportunity to come through of his team and he has dropped the ball. You do mention that he scored a centuray in his first game, but forget that he didn’t manage to score one in subsequent 15 games. More over he has only 4, half centuries in the next those games. If playing lower down the order is the problem, how come Asad Shafiq has scored 10 centuries from 6th position? Is he not a ‘proper batsman’ according to your definition?

    You also fail to mention that after 111 matches Umar akmal has a grand total of 2 centuries against his name. And one of them is against Afghanistan.
    His last 10 scores in ODIs read: 20,20*,13,19,33,59,0,4,13,6. Does this look like scores of a ‘proper ODI batsman’ to you?
    Asad Shafiq came good in England and now in Australia. He has also played big roles in UAE during the previous years. Your comapring him with Azhar Ali just make me gigle and cry. Gigle because Azhar ali is exactly everything opposite to Akmal. He is not talented with a limited number of shots but he is fighter and learner. He grind through and the makes the best of his talent. When English bowlers started targetting his pads during the first 2 tests and got him LBW, he went back, worked on this falling over and scored a century in the third test. Now tell me if you can ever imagine Umar Akmal to do the same? To have the same professionalism in his game? Your comparision makes me cry because to see that we have one team in my lifetime where there are no rifts / player coup or disharmony amongst the team and you still criticise them. Its a nation where akmals and afridis are given better recognition over Azhar Ali and Younis Khan. Where Riaz is praised for his one spell in WC and Rahat ali is ridiculed. It makes me very sad indeed.Recommend

  • RighteousLeft

    Oh please – the Akmals are entrenched in the PCB and have been given too many chances at the expense of many good batsmen. These Akmals hardly ever perform, have poor discipline and are always involved in playing politics in the team.Recommend

  • umsyed

    Whenever someone praises Umar Akmal in any ways, I really feel sorry for their Cricketing Sense. He is one of the most absurd character Pakistani cricket has seen. If you don’t have the basic understanding of the game it doesn’t matter how well you can time a ball.Recommend

  • Desi

    There is no doubt that Umar Akmal was a great batsmen, had great talent in him and was very dedicated towards the sports. But he destroyed him self. Time and again PCB gave him chances, but he never came up to par. like his brother and some others he too was involved in team politics and he got what he deserved.Recommend

  • Mujtaba

    You comparing the likes of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq with Umar Akmal shows how big of a fan you area of Umar Akmal and how neutral your article is.Recommend

  • Joji

    Its really sad to read such articles comparing Umar Akmal with Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali. Umar Akmal is the epitome of throwing away his talent by the lack of intent and preseverance. He comes off as arrogant and not a team player. Remember the fiasco where he made an excuse of pulled back after his brother Kamran Akmal was dropped? Numerous times he has the opportunity to come through of his team and he has dropped the ball. You do mention that he scored a centuray in his first game, but forget that he didn’t manage to score one in subsequent 15 games. More over he has only 4, half centuries in the next those games. If playing lower down the order is the problem, how come Asad Shafiq has scored 10 centuries from 6th position? Is he not a ‘proper batsman’ according to your definition?

    You also fail to mention that after 111 matches Umar akmal has a grand total of 2 centuries against his name. And one of them is against Afghanistan.
    His last 10 scores in ODIs read: 20,20*,13,19,33,59,0,4,13,6. Does this look like scores of a ‘proper ODI batsman’ to you?
    Asad Shafiq came good in England and now in Australia. He has also played big roles in UAE during the previous years. Your comapring him with Azhar Ali just make me gigle and cry. Gigle because Azhar ali is exactly everything opposite to Akmal. He is not talented with a limited number of shots but he is fighter and learner. He grind through and the makes the best of his talent. When English bowlers started targetting his pads during the first 2 tests and got him LBW, he went back, worked on this falling over and scored a century in the third test. Now tell me if you can ever imagine Umar Akmal to do the same? To have the same professionalism in his game? Your comparision makes me cry because to see that we have one team in my lifetime where there are no rifts / player coup or disharmony amongst the team and you still criticise them. Its a nation where akmals and afridis are given better recognition over Azhar Ali and Younis Khan. Where Riaz is praised for his one spell in WC and Rahat ali is ridiculed. It makes me very sad indeed.Recommend

  • Waseem Sarwar

    He has disappeared because he was doing nothing good at all. Pakistan’s test future revolves around Azhar, Asad, Sarfraz and Sami. Baber Azam is yet to play a big innings.Recommend

  • farooq

    This guy seems to be a die hard Akmal supporter
    Others from his time are all out of the team for the same reason – throwing away the wickets too often Imran Farhat, Hafeez, Akmals, Sohaib are all in same category.Recommend

  • Abdullah Khan

    At one stage he saying that domestic cricket means nothing if a player is performing well at international level, while at another stage he is saying ” Umar has scored 3216 runs at an average of 45.29 for SNGPL”.
    Also the author and even Umer Akmal should know that if you are talented, it does not mean you will play forever. You have to perform, talent means nothing without performance.
    PCB did not mistreated him, actually Umer Akmal mistreated PCB, Cricket and Cricket fans. His performance was bad on the pitch, while his attitude outside the ground is worst.Recommend

  • Nana

    We don’t have the time to waste on likes Umar Akmal aka Shahid Afridi type.Recommend

  • Sohail Rahman Khan

    Oh man, I signed up to disqus just to APPRECIATE you.
    You nailed it man! Excellent response. This shows that just because you can write on tribune, you are not always right.
    I wish Umar had a head of Azhar Ali and talent of his own. He would have been world beater standing shoulder to shoulder with world’s best. But alas!! Recommend

  • cashiph

    hahahhaha …. if there is any slightest of thought coming into any of cricket follower mind of including Umar Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad and Sohaib kind of players … instead of analyzing their whole careers just go to online and watch Pakistan WC 2015 campaign … you gonna hate them again .. simpleRecommend

  • antistatusquo

    Better this and remaining all 2 or 3 or 4 more Akmals are gone……..Pakistan lost many matches due to these Akmals……… i had given up watching cricket bcz of these 3 Akmals…….as i always was sure of Pakistan loosing the match when these were included in Pakistan 11.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Must be match fixingRecommend

  • Hassan Shah

    Paid article. ANYONE who follows cricket knows what an overrated mediocre is he. And when it comes to absorb pressure .. he plays like a school boy. Recommend

  • ShivaTheCommenter

    Umar Akmal is good…Kamran is worthlessRecommend

  • ShivaTheCommenter

    Umar has won many matches for PakRecommend