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Kamran Akmal: Pakistan’s wicketkeeper-batsman with butterfingers

Kamran Akmal has been one of Pakistan's most successful wicketkeepers ever © Getty Images
Kamran Akmal has been one of Pakistan’s most successful wicketkeepers ever © Getty Images

Kamran Akmal, born on January 13, 1982, is a Pakistani wicketkeeper-batsman who is more famous for his antics with the gloves than the exploits with the bat. Nishad Pai Vaidya traces his career.

 

Some players are simply remembered for the wrong reasons. While, they may have numerous achievements to show, moments of brilliance that helped their sides win; it is those moments when they fumbled that unfortunately leave a lasting impression on the crowds. Kamran Akmal, the Pakistan wicketkeeper-batsman would vouch for that as the gloveman’s exploits, or should we say antics with the gloves has stolen the thunder from what has otherwise been a good career. Ask any cricket fan about Kamran, and they would talk to you about the spilled chances at Sydney in 2010 or the horrendous misses of Ross Taylor at the 2011 World Cup, and not the epic match-saving act at Mohali in 2005 or the brisk Test ton at No 7 at Karachi in 2006.

Born in Lahore,  Kamran played for Pakistan Under-15 at the Lombard Under-15 Challenge Cup in England in 1996. His teammates included Bazid Khan, Hasan Raza, Taufeeq Umar, Faisal Iqbal, and Shoaib Malik to name a few. He then quickly graduated to the Under-19 level and made his First-Class debut in 1997 for Lahore City. H was only 15 years old then.

Kamran continued to make steady progress and his first big opportunity came for Pakistan A against England in 1999. The young wicketkeeper was on the selectors’ radar although Rashid Latif and Moin Khan occupied the spots in the national side. But, Akmal continued to impress and after he scored over 800 runs in the 2001-02 First-Class season, he was always in the fray. In October 2002, he played for Pakistan A against Sri Lanka A, before being called up for the tour to Zimbabwe and South Africa in 2002-03.

On his maiden tour, Kamran did no wrong and even scored his first Test half-century. In the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) too, he was decent and even opened the batting a few times. Latif had cemented his spot though for the 2003 World Cup and Kamran couldn’t make it. Subsequently, Latif was appointed captain, which meant that Kamran only made sporadic appearances at the highest level. After Latif was dropped in 2003, Moin was summoned again and continued till October 2004, when Kamran walked in and donned the role of the wicketkeeper full time.

Kamran’s first major test was on the tour to Australia in 2004-05 and in a tri-series ODI against the West Indies at Brisbane, he scored 124 as an opener. The century helped Kamran cement his place in the side and  Pakistan unearthed his value at the top. But, it was on the tour to India in 2005 that he made a name for himself. With Pakistan facing an innings defeat at Mohali, Abdul Razzaq and Kamran scripted an epic partnership that saved the game from the jaws of defeat. Kamran scored 109, registering his maiden Test century. Clinching that draw was valuable as Pakistan went on to level the series 1-1.

As the year progressed, Kamran only strengthened his spot and made a huge impression as a batsman. His 154 against England at Lahore helped Pakistan win the game. Also, on the tour to West Indies, he took nine catches in one of the Test matches. Pakistan seemed to have found their perfect successor to Latif and Moin. On the one-day front, his back-to-back tons against England at home in late 2005 also affirmed his credentials at the top of the order.

Kamran began 2006 with a bang as he hit 102 off only 81 balls against India at Lahore. But, in the third Test at Karachi, his innings of 113 was a masterpiece as it came in seaming conditions with Pakistan losing six wickets for less than 50 on the board. Eventually, Pakistan won the game and it wouldn’t have happened had Akmal not batted with spite against a wily Irfan Pathan on Day One, when the Indian seamer had reduced Pakistan to 0 for 3, taking a hat-trick in the first over of the Test.

While he was Pakistan’s first choice wicketkeeper from 2007 to 2010, Kamran’s errors behind the stumps were far too many. But, Pakistan couldn’t do much as they relied on his batting and needed that modern wicketkeeper in the side. In domestic cricket, they had Zulqarnain Haider and Sarfraz Ahmed, but both didn’t fit the bill as batsmen. On the other hand, Kamran could be summoned anywhere and was a floater in the batting line-up. In 2009, he was also a part of the side that lifted the ICC World T20 in England.

Kamran’s bat continued to fire and he essayed numerous innings of note in situations that demanded him to absorb the pressure. By 2009, his talented brother Umar Akmal also made the cut as a batsman and they shared a memorable stand in the youngster’s debut in New Zealand.

But, there was trouble in store.

During the Sydney Test of 2010, Akmal dropped Michael Hussey three times during Australia’s second innings and also did not run-out Shane Watson when he had the chance to take the bails off. Watson dived for his ground as the throw came in and to his bemusement; Akmal collected it and only sighed. Eventually, Pakistan lost the Test despite taking a 204-run lead initially. There was more drama in store. When Sarfraz was flown in for the next Test, Akmal maintained that he would be playing. There were murmurs that his brother Umar said that he won’t play if Kamran isn’t picked. Ultimately, Kamran had to sit out.

There was a cloud of uncertainty over his spot through 2010 with Pakistan were surveying options in the lead-up to the World Cup 2011. Zulqarnain came back for the England tour and made his debut in England. When he scored a fighting 88, Pakistan were assured, but an injury ruled him out for the rest of the tour. Kamran returned and was in the side that faced the ignominy of the spot-fixing scandal during the Lord’s Test. With all that in plate, there were allegations against Kamran in the media, questioning the Sydney Test as well. And, then Kamran was dropped for the tour to the United Arab Emirates to play South Africa.

Zulqarnain did a decent job in the UAE before running AWOL. Now, Adnan Akmal was picked for the Tests and continued for the New Zealand tour. But Pakistan called senior Akmal  back for the ODIs and he was a part of the side that went into the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup.

Then came ‘Butterfingers 2.0’. In the game against New Zealand, Pakistan had New Zealand in a bit of a spot when an out-of-form Taylor walked in. He edged a delivery on zero and it went in between Kamran and Younis Khan at first-slip. It was closer to Kamran , but he let it go instead. The next ball was smashed to the boundary and then Taylor edged again. This time, it bounced off Kamran ’s gloves and fell to the ground. Younis’s expression at first-slip said it all as he nearly celebrated before noticing the drop. Taylor went on to smash a remarkable century that resulted in a huge defeat for Pakistan.

Kamran  was dropped after that performance and numerous wicketkeepers came into the side thereafter. Adnan continued in the Tests and Pakistan also saw the return of Sarfraz. Even Mohammad Salman and a few others were tried in the limited-overs. Umar was also handed the gloves for some time. With all these options failing, Kamran was called back into the side in 2012. He played the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka and was a part of the ODI side that travelled for the ICC Champions Trophy 2013. An unconvincing performance has again seen his ouster.

How would history judge Kamran when he finishes? If he does indeed resurrect his career and improves his wicketkeeping by several notches, he will certainly finish as one of the better modern stumpers. But, is a comeback possible after repeated failures with the gloves?

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)

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