x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Umar Akmal can bring cheer to brothers' grim tale

The youngest in the Akmal family, and Pakistan's great batting hope, needs to be grounded if he is to avoid being dropped like his siblings were.

Umar Akmal, right, is more focused on batting while brother Adnan, left, is a specialist keeper.
Umar Akmal, right, is more focused on batting while brother Adnan, left, is a specialist keeper.

The Akmal brothers are forever linked to one another in the eyes of cricket fans.

In most sports teams, brothers in the same side is seen as a positive. It provides for an easier transition into the squad as they are familiar with each other.

However, in Pakistan cricket the Akmal brothers have found out that siblings in the team is not always an advantage. One brother's mistakes or triumphs are counted as all three failing or impressing. It is the nature of the fans; victory and continuous success are the only acceptable results.

Pakistan cricket's introduction to the Akmals began with Kamran Akmal. He was a youthful, athletic wicketkeeper with the capacity to smash the ball around while batting. Selectors and players were quick to praise and there were murmurs of him becoming the next Moin Khan or Rashid Latif.

Kamran began his first-class career at the age of 15; however his initial desire was to be a specialist batsman. He persisted with this preference until he was asked to become a keeper. The idea was that it would be the easiest way into the national team, which required a keeper.

He accepted and excelled with the gloves and bat, and at the age of 20 he was awarded his Pakistan cap.

The wicketkeeper-batsman showed competence almost immediately and eventually cemented his place in the team.

His rise, however, was to meet with one hurdle after another, beginning with the England tour of 2006. Catches were being dropped at a consistent rate, his batting abilities had started to wane and the team was comprehensively beaten. It all came to a head when the selectors felt enough was enough and decided to drop him.

Still, there was a silver lining in all of this, at least for one Akmal. The man to replace Kamran was his younger brother Adnan.

Adnan began his first class career a year after Kamran started playing for Pakistan. In 2003, at the age of 18, Adnan decided to begin playing domestic cricket.

His role model at the time was his elder brother as he decided to play as wicketkeeper.

Adnan was never as blessed with the batting talents of his brothers, so he had to play extra attention to his keeping. As his brother's form declined, Adnan's form with the gloves and bat rose.

The selectors noticed Adnan's rising form and decided to select him over his brother.

The roar of disapproval from fans was vociferous as they were still ridding themselves of the horrors of Kamran.

This sort of welcome into the national team was not exactly ideal. Add in the idea of replacing his brother and facing South Africa on his debut, no one could have blamed Adnan for being uneasy.

Yet, with all the pressures on his shoulders, Adnan was a bundle of positive energy. His keeping was immaculate; he was taking the hard catches and was quickly beginning to impress one and all.

The fans were waiting for his first mistake, but it didn't come; Adnan put on a wonderful display with the gloves and showed the world that he deserved his spot.

This is where the positivity ends; the rest is a sorry tale. Without reason, Adnan was dropped for Mohammad Salman. Despite, performing well, Adnan was left perplexed. Was his surname coming back to haunt him?

Somewhere, among this rubble of his wicketkeeping brothers was a top-class batting prospect, Umar Akmal.

Umar began his domestic career in 2007, he was highly rated right from the start. He was 17 years old and had a flair to his batting. The coaches at the domestic level were impressed, but as an Akmal brother problems had to follow. Umar had a carefree attitude; and was criticised by his academy coach for not taking his batting seriously.

What occurred after that telling off from his coach was the foundation of Umar's entire career. He turned into a batsman who started piling on the runs and his work ethic improved.

Umar is seen as the country's top batting prospect even though he still struggles to control his approach. However, there is a difference, he holds himself accountable and desires to become a future great. His improvements are shown through his eagerness to practice and improve.

Umar's breathtaking yet sometime flawed talent is a source of great concern for Pakistani cricket as well. Having invested time and faith in yet another Akmal brother, Pakistan fans and management are asking for more consistency - a little more than the "show pony" aspect that will thrill in a Twenty20 game but flop in longer forms of the game.

With the decline of the fortunes of the other Akmal brothers, possibly better alternatives are emerging in the Pakistan set-up. As for Umar Akmal, now the family's brightest star, it is time to stop living under the wings of his elder brothers and be his own man - Pakistan expects!




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