Kamran Akmal (above) believes his brother Umar Akmal is being mistreated by the Pakistan think tank by shuffling him up and down the order regularly © Getty Images
By Saj Sadiq
Kamran Akmal has played 53 Tests, 154 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and 50 Twenty20 Internationals for Pakistan, scoring over 6,000 international runs. He has six Test centuries and 12 fifties and has taken over 350 catches and completed 83 stumpings.
The 31-year-old made his debut in 2002 and was a regular for the Pakistan side in all three formats over the next decade. He made a strong start to his Test career, with impressive performances behind the sumps and contributing vital runs with the bat, no more so than his and patient 109 in 2005 at Mohali when he shared a 184-run seventh wicket partnership to help Pakistan draw the Test. A year later, he truly announced himself with a fighting 113 against the same opponents in Karachi after Pakistan had slumped to 39/6, a match Pakistan subsequently won.
However, he was unable to maintain his form behind the stumps and after a number of costly dropped catches, including the now infamous four he dropped in one innings at Sydney in 2010, which resulted in Pakistan losing from a position of significant strength and last played a Test over three years ago, has resulted in Pakistan seeking alternative wicket-keeping options.
He was a member of the Pakistan squad which was victorious in the 2009 ICC World T20 squad and scored some vital runs in the semi-final and final. Akmal has five ODI centuries and ten half-centuries and has remained in contention for the limited overs teams, although his brothers Adnan Akmal and Umar Akmal are now considered Pakistan’s first-choice glovemen across the three formats.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Kamran Akmal spoke about his own international career so far and the unfair treatment of his younger brother Umar Akmal, as well as the need for an experienced coach for the Pakistani team and his views on the upcoming Test series against Sri Lanka.
PakPassion.Net (PP): How difficult was it for you as a batsman to turn yourself into a wicket-keeper?
Kamran Akmal (KA): The stories that I was a batsman who turned himself into a wicket-keeper are incorrect. The fact is that when I played for the Pakistan Under-15s, I played as a wicket-keeper. I have always played as a wicket-keeper and have performed in that role as well. In only 53 Tests, I have 206 dismissals and no Pakistani has this many in such a few number of Tests. Wasim Bari had 228 dismissals in 81 Tests. How can anyone question that I am not a wicket-keeper or that my performance is not good enough?
By the Grace of God, I also have the most runs and centuries by a wicket-keeper for Pakistan. In the history of Pakistani cricket, no wicket-keeper has as many centuries as me. I intend to play as a wicket-keeper batsman as I have always done and my record is there for all to see.
PP: Do you feel that it’s right to be playing your brother Umar Akmal as a wicket-keeper in international cricket? Is this a wise move or short-term thinking?
KA: Clearly it’s short-term thinking. The coach, captain and selectors who are making Umar play as a wicket-keeper are being unfair on him and the Pakistan team. They’ve been pushing him down the batting order ever since they’ve started to play him in that role. He is the only middle-order batsmen who has to bat in virtually every position but for whatever reason, isn’t getting promoted up the order and instead is being burdened with the responsibility of wicket-keeping. No one is thinking about it. The captain doesn’t move himself around in the batting order and is instead using Umar as a scapegoat.
PP: If wicket-keeping is the way Umar Akmal can secure his spot in the Pakistan team, then should he also start wicket-keeping in domestic cricket as well?
KA: It’s unfair to Umar that he is being played as a wicket-keeper. It’s definitely affecting his batting. As to your question about him keeping in domestic cricket, who do you think will he keep wicket for? Adnan (Akmal) is in his team so it will be very difficult for him to replace Adnan.
It really doesn’t matter who the wicket-keeper is, this is simply unfair. Umar should be played as a batsman as he was selected in the team for his batting. To me, if you have a makeshift wicket-keeper, it’s that individual player’s loss. The team will benefit for the time-being or short term, but they will lose in the long term as it will affect the career of the player and his ability to score runs in the future. In Umar’s case, wicket-keeping is definitely affecting his batting. Apart from the strain on the body, you can see that he is not being used properly as a batsman. I am not sure what the captain expects from him.
PP: You have played 257 international matches. Which of these matches are the most memorable for you?
KA: There are quite a few to chose from. My first hundred at Brisbane against the West Indies [VB Series, 2004/05] is memorable as there was a lot of pressure on me given I hadn’t performed well in that series. Younis Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Bob Woolmer provided support and prepared me for this game. They also had faith in my ability, so in a way this century really was due to all of their support. Then there was the first Test in the 2004/2005 series against India in Mohali and the 3rd Test in Karachi in the 2005/2006 series against the same opposition. In both of those games, I played crucial innings and scored centuries.
PP: You mentioned Bob Woolmer. How was your relationship with him?
KA: In my opinion, he was the best coach we ever had, or at least I’ve had the pleasure to work with. He was a very sensible coach. He was also helped by the captain at the time, Inzamam-ul-Haq. The way both of them carried the team forward is truly commendable because prior to that, the side wasn’t performing well.
After Bob Woolmer became coach and Inzamam became captain, the team’s performances improved. The credit for this improvement really needs to be given to the coach and captain who built the team. Despite not having Shahid Afridi or Shoaib Akhtar in the side on many occasions, we were still able to win matches with bowlers like Danish Kaneria, Mohammad Sami and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. The bowling attack wasn’t the greatest, but to be able to win ODI series in the West Indies and Sri Lanka and draw [2-2] in England was a big achievement. Woolmer’s passing away was one of the saddest days of my life – we were all deeply saddened by this news and at first couldn’t believe it. It was a great loss for us.
PP: Could you clarify the incident that took place between yourself and Shoaib Akhtar at the World Cup in India in 2011?
KA: There was a misunderstanding between us at that time but it was cleared up later on. I really don’t want to revisit that. However, I do want to comment on what I’ve heard him saying recently on TV and in the media: that his career ended due to the catches I dropped. I would advise him to first look at himself before pointing fingers at any other player. His career spanned 14 or 15 years but he only played 46 Test matches in that period. Before blaming others for his own misfortune, he should think about his own track record and career. Such criticism of others does not look good coming from someone who was not sincere with the national team in the first place and who played whilst hiding his injuries.
PP: Over the course of your career you’ve kept wicket to some great Pakistani bowlers. How was that experience?
KA: I have to say that of all the great bowlers I have kept for, the best experience I have has been with none other than the great Wasim Akram. I enjoyed keeping wicket to him and it was a wonderful experience to play with him. He supported me a lot as well and it was an honour to play alongside him. Other than Wasim, I have also enjoyed and still love wicket-keeping to Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal, both of whom are excellent bowlers.
PP: Tell us a bit about how, as a wicket-keeper, you start developing an understanding with a particular bowler. Also how do you get to know what kind of bowling strategies they will use in different situations?
KA: This happens if you play a lot of cricket together and in time you start understanding a bowler’s traits and become familiar with their bowling. For example, whenever I play with Saeed Ajmal, I enjoy a very good understanding with him which became an advantage for me to keep wicket to him. For a spinner like Shahid Afridi, you have to raise your concentration level as he has many varieties and different bowling speeds. It’s a great challenge but over time you get to understand their style of bowling.
PP: Do senior bowlers or players also encourage you to perform better and help you in training, or do you think the current crop of senior players do not encourage juniors enough?
KA: The senior and experienced players always help out in this way. Let me give you an example. During a side match on my first international tour, a great player like Wasim Akram took me to the nets to practice wicket-keeping. I’ve never seen any other player of that calibre who supports juniors so much. Players like Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan are more examples of seniors who have always helped juniors to learn more and train better. In my opinion, I do not think there are any more players who are around at the moment who support youngsters in the way those players did.
PP: As a wicket-keeper, when you make mistakes do bowlers discuss this with you later on in the dressing room? Do you also investigate and analyse further how you can avoid repeating them? Who helps you train?
KA: Yes of course, we do talk about the mistakes. We have coaches and analysts who present in detail what went wrong. Bob Woolmer used to help me a lot in that aspect. He used to sit with me after every day of a match and we’d talk though the video analysis. He also used to show me videos of former wicket keepers like Alan Knott of England as to how he used to take catches and what drills he used to do. Not only people from my own team, but ex-players from other teams have also helped me. For example, on both my tours of Australia, former greats like Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist went out of their way to pass on a lot of tips to me.
On my first tour, Gilchrist was playing and he used to offer me a lot of advice at the end of the day’s play or when the match ended. Then during the second tour, I wasn’t selected to play the third Test in Hobart . This gave me a chance to practice with Ian Healy for three or four days which was really helpful and I was grateful to Ian Healy for helping me out in that way. In Pakistan, my personal coach Dr. Mohammad Jameel has been my trainer since my Under-15 days and he is a well-recognised name amongst the wicket-keeping community in domestic cricket. Even at my home, my younger brother Adnan sometimes gives me a lot of tips to help me improve.
PP: You have three international wicket-keepers in the family. Do you help each other out or is there competition between yourselves?
KA: Let’s be clear, we are talking about the Pakistan national team and not the Akmal brothers’ team! If we have healthy competition amongst ourselves, then it can only be good for Pakistan. The team management and the Board have to decide who amongst us is better for the team combination they are looking for, and if they think one of us belongs in the national side it’s their call. There is obviously professional rivalry sometimes, but that is to be expected from three professional sportsmen.
PP: You have mentioned Inzamam-ul-Haq’s name a few times in this interview. How much influence did Inzamam have in your progress as a cricketer?
KA: For as long as I play international cricket, I will give the credit only to Inzamam Bhai who gave me a chance to play in the team – even at a time when big names like Rashid Latif and Moin Khan were still around. Inzi Bhai preferred me and I will always be thankful and remember him for his extraordinary help. He not only supported me, but he also supported players like Shoaib Malik, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Rao Iftikhar Anjum. Even Younis Khan was struggling to find a place in the team but Inzamam Bhai stuck with him and kept playing him. It is the same Younis Khan who has now scored 7,000 runs in each of the Test and ODI formats today and is a big name in world cricket. It is a trait of a great leader who can spot talent and knows who can perform well for his team.
I am still in touch with Inzamam and we speak very often. I always ask for advice and he offers it readily. As you know, he also advised the team before we set off the last India tour and it benefited us a lot as you can tell from the team’s performance when we were out there. Pakistan needs people like him to be associated with the national side.
PP: What is your response to accusations about deliberate under-performance in the Sydney Test?
KA: I really have nothing to say about that time. The match is there for all to see and people can draw what conclusions they like. We should really forget about it and think ahead about the future. Personally speaking, those three or four hours were a horrible time for me. Now it’s history so let’s leave it at that.
PP: Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Aamer and Salman Butt were your team-mates in the National Bank side. How shocked were you by their actions?
KA: Only the Almighty knows what was in their hearts. All I know is that they were my colleagues and team-mates. We played together in the international side too and I had a good opening partnership with Salman Butt. Those were good times and those are the ones I look back on and I really have no ill-will against them. I cannot and will not comment on the punishment they received, but all I will say is that to me they were like any other colleagues in the international side.
PP: What is the standard of wicket-keeping coaching in Pakistan? Is the level of coaching adequate or does it require improvement?
KA: There is no special coaching for wicket-keepers I am aware of and there are no real [coaching] standards in domestic cricket with regards to wicket-keeping. The result is that the players who perform, do so as a result of their own ability, not due to coaches although I do feel that it is the performance of a player and not what coaching he has received which should be the guide when selection decisions are made.
We need more coaches and whatever coaching we do have, also needs a drastic improvement. The PCB and the local teams should call in professional coaches to help out and improve the levels of coaching. I am not just talking about wicket-keeping but also about cricket coaching in general so for example, Inzamam, Alan Knott or Dean Jones should be called in to help out and guide our players.
We should also look to the academies to provide coaching to players. There are coaching camps held by the academies but the standards need to improve. Sometimes I also go to the academies to practice, but even then there’s no substitute for match practice. I always try to play as many club and domestic matches as possible. To me that is better than any amount of coaching or net practice. However, Adnan and I are lucky that we have a personal coach in the shape of Dr. Mohammad Jameel who has helped us throughout our careers.
PP: What are your thoughts on foreign coaches working with the Pakistani cricket team?
KA: I have spent a lot of time with international coaches. In my 11-year international career, I have played under foreign and Pakistani coaches, so I have a pretty good idea of what a good coach can do. Amongst the foreign coaches there has been none better than Bob Woolmer. He was here for three years and gave us very good practice routines and worked us hard.
It will be impossible to get a coach better than Bob Woolmer. You also have former players like Inzamam-ul-Haq who should get involved with Pakistani cricket. Ex-players should become coaches. Coaches who are young enough to get involved in training sessions and not just stand around, make you work hard and work hard themselves.
Personally speaking, I would like to see coaches involved with national side who are ex-players and who have played at least 100 Tests. Those who have the records to match their skills and have been great players themselves, whose name will be recognisable to the current Pakistani players. Inzamam, Javed [Miandad] bhai and Zaheer Abbas are some names that should be brought in. I suppose it really doesn’t matter if they are local or foreign, I would just like them to have experienced cricket at the highest level.
PP: What are your predictions for the upcoming Test series against Sri Lanka and what positives can Pakistan take from their drawn Test series against the world’s top ranked team, South Africa?
KA: I believe that the Pakistan team should win this series in the same way they won the last series played against Sri Lanka in the UAE – by a 1-0 margin. I won’t say that it will be easy as both teams are equally capable of winning. However, it is a fact that our team has an advantage given the bowling resources available to us. There will be reverse swing on offer and our bowlers are good exponents of it. The spin options are also good, Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman are all world class spinners. The combination of spinners and fast bowlers should prove more than sufficient to handle Sri Lanka.
As far as our batting is concerned, we should make sure that the openers who played in the last series against South Africa should be given another opportunity to play. So players like Shaan Masood and Khurrum Manzoor should definitely play.
As for the positives from the South Africa series, the spinners bowled very well in the first Test, in Abu Dhabi, and we beat them. In the second Test, Pakistan were unfortunately bowled out for 99 and it’s very difficult to win or draw after that. There is no side in world cricket that can come back from such a position and that was the reason for the loss. The first innings is also very important in any Test match. If you look at the ongoing South Africa-India series, India posted a good first innings score and managed to get into strong positions after that. Pakistan will need to look at doing the same in the series against Sri Lanka and put them under pressure from the start.
PP: Coming back to your own career, what do you think you have to do to get back into the national side?
KA: It comes down to my own performances in domestic cricket. I have to remain focused and work hard in domestic cricket and with the prayers of my parents and the will of Allah I hope to return. My aim is to simply perform well in domestic cricket. The national selectors and team management always give chances to those who are performing well and I am hoping to catch their eye once again to resume my career at the international level.
(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)