I believe there is no problem with my discipline or attitude: Umar Akmal

A string of low scores in the 2015 World Cup and also some accusations regarding his attitude saw Umar Akmal being excluded from Pakistan’s squad for the tour of Bangladesh and also cast some doubt over his abilities to perform consistently at the international level. Twenty-four year Akmal has had to face criticism throughout his career.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Akmal spoke about his disappointment at his performances during the 2015 World Cup, responded to reports of issues between him and members of the coaching staff, his inability to cement a place in the Pakistan side despite numerous opportunities and also looked forward to the possibility of playing in front of home crowds during the series against Zimbabwe.

Excerpts from an interview

PakPassion (PP): 164 runs in seven innings at an average of 27.33. How would you rate your performance at the 2015 World Cup?
Umar Akmal (UA): Firstly I feel honoured that I was selected for the Pakistan squad for the World Cup, but on the other hand, I’m disappointed that I could not perform as well as I did in the 2011 World Cup, despite trying my best and giving my all.

PP: Why do you feel your performances weren’t great at the World Cup?
UA: My form was fine, I was hitting the ball well and out of the middle of the bat, but I guess it was down to bad luck. Grant Flower and Shahid Aslam had really made me feel confident, my preparation went well ahead of the tournament and I was feeling good at the crease during the tournament, striking the ball well, but I just kept on picking out the fielders.

PP: During the World Cup, there were reports that the fielding coach Grant Luden had threatened to resign following misconduct by three players, including yourself. Can you elaborate on what happened?
UA: Hand on heart I have never had any issues such as this with anyone. I have never had any disagreements with team mates, management or coaching staff. Whatever Grant Luden wanted me to do when it came to wicket-keeping practice or fielding practice, I just did it. I have no idea why I was mentioned in those reports about Luden and I would urge people to ask him about my attitude and efforts during the World Cup and he will confirm that there were no issues at all from my side.

PP: In a recent interview, Kamran Akmal suggested that you were being made a scapegoat whenever Pakistan performs badly. Do you agree with what Kamran said?
UA: The decision to drop me after the World Cup was of course one taken by the selection committee. They are the ones who should be asked why I was dropped as they seem to have all the answers. I agree that I did not perform up to expectations at the World Cup, but I still managed to score a fifty and make some runs in tough conditions and at difficult times. I would suggest the selectors and the head coach are asked this question as they will have the answers.

PP: Is it not accurate that you were actually dropped for alleged breaches of discipline and having a poor attitude as stated in Waqar Younis’ World Cup report which was submitted to the PCB?
UA: I don’t understand where this part about attitude has come into the equation. I have never shown anyone any attitude and I have always tried to focus on my cricket right from the start of my playing days. It’s really disappointing that even if Waqar Younis for some reason or another did mention something about my attitude in his report then that should not have been leaked and brought into the public domain. I believe there is no problem with my discipline or attitude and never has been.

PP: Haroon Rasheed, the new Chief Selector has also pinpointed the fact that the attitude of some players was the reason why they were dropped. Surely he cannot be making that up too?
UA: I can only talk about myself and not other players. There was no issue at the World Cup regarding attitude or indiscipline from myself. I’ve played cricket all over the world under many different coaches and there have never been any issues with my discipline. It’s heartbreaking to read such stories and it’s very confusing for me as I have never been involved in such unprofessional issues.

PP: Was there any disagreement between you and Waqar Younis during the World Cup?
UA: I’ve not had any disagreement with Waqar Younis or anyone else during my cricket career in any part of the world. Whatever role I have been given and for whatever team, I have always tried to give my all and to perform to the best of my ability. You have good and bad days in cricket and that cannot be attributed to a poor attitude.

PP: What are your thoughts on the coaching methods of Waqar Younis and his colleagues since he has taken over as head coach?
UA: Every coach has his own methods and strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day we were all trying our best individually and collectively to ensure Pakistan performed well prior to and during the World Cup.

PP: Your critics say that despite playing 186 times for Pakistan you are still making the same mistakes when batting and playing the same reckless shots. How would you respond to that criticism?
UA: I have done the best I could and despite the position I have been batting in for large parts of my career. I feel that I have performed as well as I could especially as many times when I go out to bat, there are only a few overs left and I have to take a lot of risks and score very quickly almost right from ball one. I could have been selfish and finished with a few more not outs, but that’s not the way I am. I’m a team player and will not sacrifice the team’s interests for my own. If you want to look at statistics then yes my batting statistics could have been better if I had played selfishly and also if I had been given a chance higher up the order.

Whenever I have been given the opportunity to bat up the order, more often than not I have performed. Obviously you cannot make runs every time, but I feel that my better performances have come when the coach and captain and senior players have shown faith in me and given me a chance to bat up the order rather than at number six. I think that if I had batted at number four or five on a regular basis for Pakistan then my performances would have been more consistent and of a higher standard.

PP: Has anyone from the team management spoken with you about what areas of your game you need to improve upon?
UA: Not at the moment, they haven’t. I’m simply focusing on playing club cricket for Model Town cricket club and I’m enjoying my cricket there. I’ve made a lot of runs in the last few matches and have enjoyed being back to where I have learnt a lot of my cricket. I have also performed reasonably well in the recently concluded Super 8 Twenty20 tournament and will also be playing some County cricket in England with Leicestershire so that should be exciting too. In addition I might be playing in the Caribbean Premier League later this year so that is another exciting opportunity to look forward to. I hope that by playing club cricket, domestic cricket and some cricket overseas I can get my confidence back and perform well for Pakistan.

PP: Do you think you struggle to cope with pressure and expectations?
UA: No, I don’t think so. If I put myself under pressure and worry too much about whether the selectors are watching me or not, or the levels of expectations, then I will never be able to perform. The selectors know what I am capable of as do the fans and media. I just need to relax and perform and enjoy playing cricket rather than going out there and thinking that I have a point to prove every time I go out there and bat.

PP: Some would say that you are fortunate to have been recalled to the Pakistan squad so quickly after the World Cup?
UA: I disagree; I think I have been picked on merit. I went back to club cricket and performed well there and I was also one of the top scorers during the Super 8 Twenty20 tournament in Faisalabad and showed the selectors that I am in good form and can score runs when given the opportunity to. I’m hoping that I can carry my good recent form in domestic cricket into the Zimbabwe series.

PP: What type of coach can get the best out of Umar Akmal?
UA: I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some great coaches over the years. Aamir Malik was an excellent coach as was Aamir Sohail. I also enjoyed working with Mudassar Nazar, Aaqib Javed, Mohtashim Rasheed, Shahid Aslam, Ijaz Ahmed, Mohsin Kamal and Mansoor Rana. They have all at times worked with me and I have benefited in different ways from what they have told me, from their guidance and also their cricketing knowledge and experience. What I really enjoyed about when working with the aforementioned coaches is that they didn’t try to change me as a cricketer and just told me to go out there and perform, instead of trying to overhaul my technique and approach and above all they really backed me.

PP: Do you think it’s difficult for someone like Grant Flower to understand the Pakistani cricketing culture and be able to get the Pakistani batsmen to appreciate what he is trying to implement?
UA: No, I don’t think so. He’s a professional coach who has been hired by the PCB and he understands the mentality of the Pakistani players. I think he’s enjoying working with the Pakistani cricketers and I’ve enjoyed working with him too. He’s a big name, yet he’s very humble and friendly with the players and there is no arrogance at all from him. I think he’s a good coach and someone the players have enjoyed working with.

PP: What now for you? Are we ever going to see you fulfill the talent you obviously possess or are we just going to have to accept that consistency and shot selection are not your strengths?
UA: I’m very grateful to everyone who has supported me over the years. I have always tried my best for whichever team I have played for. I have done my best according to my batting position and when I have been sent into bat. I admit sometimes I have clicked and at other times I’ve not, but that is not due to a careless attitude or not caring. I love playing cricket, it’s my passion and life and I will walk away from the game the day I do not enjoy playing any more.

My aim now is to regain my place in the Pakistan team and this time not to lose my place. I want to add consistency to my batting and I promise my fans and supporters that whenever I come back for Pakistan you will see a different, more responsible and a better version of me.

PP: If you play against Zimbabwe it will be the first time you have played international cricket in Pakistan. What will that mean to you?
UA: It will be an amazing feeling; it would mean so much to me. Cricketers around the world take playing at home in front of their own crowds for granted. But unfortunately many of us Pakistani cricketers have never been able to play in our own conditions and in front of the Pakistani public, which is really tough. I know the people of Pakistan are really looking forward to the return of international cricket to Pakistan and so are the players. I can’t wait to hopefully walk out in front of the Lahore crowd wearing the green of Pakistan, I’m sure it will be a special feeling if I am selected. I thank the Zimbabwe team for embarking on this tour and hope it’s the start of international cricket returning permanently to Pakistan.

(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. The above article first appeared in PakPassion)


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