‘Pakistan has not kept pace with the style of cricket that is played by all other teams’

Kamran Akmal’s recent excellent batting form was a key factor in Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel’s triumph in the 2015 edition of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) as they lifted the title for the first time in the history of that competition. Despite a decent domestic record, sound match-winning performances at the CPL and after having played 261 international games for his country, the 33-year old wicketkeeper-batsman currently finds himself discarded by the national selectors.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Kamran Akmal spoke about chances of regaining his place in the Pakistan team due to his recent performances in the CPL, his views on the competition from Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Rizwan as well as his take on the treatment of Umar Akmal by the team management.

Excerpts from an interview:

PakPassion (PP) : Tell us about your experience of playing in the Azadi T20 Series charity games in England?

Kamran Akmal (KA): I have played in many charity games, but these have been completely different and far superior to what I have ever seen before. It was a wonderful feeling to play in front of so many Pakistan supporters. It’s great to have such matches involving top Pakistan players as the local supporters do not get to see the Pakistan team play in England until they come over for an international tour which happens every four years or when some major ICC event takes place in the country. If events like this are organised every year then the Pakistan supporters will really enjoy this and to be honest, it also motivates the players to play at their best.

The organisers must be given due credit for their hard work in organizing these three games. The other really great aspect about this was the fact that some of the top players from today and the yesteryear participated in these games and made these contests very lively. We had the likes of Saeed Ajmal, Saj Mahmood, Simon Jones, Paul Nixon and Monty Panesar appearing in these games which was quite impressive. It was a great experience for me to play alongside such excellent and well known players.

PP: You must be very satisfied with your excellent performances during the 2015 edition of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL)?

KA: I am very pleased and thankful to the Almighty for providing me this opportunity. Not only was my personal performance good where I scored 188 runs at a decent strike-rate and was the top-scorer (60) in the final, I also had the honour of playing for a team that emerged as the champions in this tournament. The credit for the success of my team, Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel, should go to the team and its management for their excellent efforts. If you will recall, we didn’t have a great start to the tournament, but as the tournament wore on and we gathered momentum, we became unstoppable. 

Personally, the experience was fantastic and I got to learn a lot from my teammates who were a pleasure to work with. Our coach, Simon Helmot, and captain Dwayne Bravo deserve all the praise we can think of for keeping the team motivated throughout this tournament. In return, the team responded really well and the results are there for all to see. We were number three in the points table before the semi-finals and then rose above everyone to win the tournament which was truly amazing.

PP: Given that players can be recalled to the Pakistan squad due to their domestic performances, your own results at the CPL must then give you hope of a recall as well?

KA: I really do not want to say anything on this issue as this is something for the selectors to think about but the fact is that I have been performing in domestic cricket well before the start of the CPL. The way I look at this is that my job is to perform well and it’s the job of the selectors to select the best players in the country. I will continue performing to the best of my abilities in the same way I have done in the past. Whether I am included in the Pakistan team or not is not under my control. I can only control what is within my powers, and that is to play good cricket. When the time is right and the Almighty so wishes, I will make my comeback to the Pakistan national team. I will always have the desire and passion to play for my country.

PP: With Mohammad Rizwan and Sarfraz Ahmed doing well, do you feel there is more competition for you in terms of the wicketkeeper-batsman position in the Pakistan team?

KA: There is always competition at any given point in time. Once we had Rashid Latif and Moin Khan competing with each other then we had Mohammad Salman, Humayun Farhat and Zulqarnain Haider. All I am trying to say is that there will always be competition for places and one should not worry about it. I for one am only worried about my own fitness and want to concentrate on my own performances and wait for an opportunity to represent my country. Whenever that call comes, I will be ready to put in my best efforts and leave the rest to the Almighty. 

As for the two players that you mentioned, they are good friends and I won’t comment on their relative skills. Like everyone else, my best wishes are with the Pakistan team and whoever performs the best for the team deserves to be with the team and that’s all there is to it. I feel that Sarfraz and Rizwan will continue to improve their skills as long as they are able to perform well. Sarfraz, in particular, has done very well for Pakistan but I believe that the main challenge for him is to maintain the high levels of performance in every game he plays.

PP: Do you think it was right not to play Sarfraz in the recently-concluded T20I series against Sri Lanka?

KA: The way I look at this is that we need to have full faith in the captain and his judgment as he is the one who decides on the right combination for the team for any game. It is also possible that the captain and coach decided to give him a break after taking into account the hot and humid weather in Sri Lanka as Sarfraz had played non-stop in three Test matches and five ODIs prior to the the T20I series.

PP: Pakistan may have won the ODI series against Sri Lanka but the fact is that we are struggling in ODIs. What is the reason for that?

KA: Let me say that I am really saddened to see that our beloved Pakistan ODI team has slumped to its lowest ranking ever, although we have a slight improvement now to number eight position. Our seniors had left the team in our hands in a good position but I feel that we in this generation, and I blame myself too, have betrayed their trust. It was our job to have carried on with the good work and improve our team’s rankings. We have failed to carry on the good work of our seniors.

So what is the problem and why are we in such a state? To me, the problem is simple. We have not kept pace with the style of cricket that is played by all other teams and that which is required to succeed in today’s world. We are unable to play aggressively and in a positive manner. This is not something we are able to do with ease and this is hurting us. Take the example of the New Zealand team. A few years ago, nobody thought much of them but look at the way they have transformed themselves and see how they played during the 2015 World Cup. We are unable to utilise powerplays which is a big problem and we need to improve on that.

PP: Do you feel that Pakistan showed signs of improvement in their form during their Test, ODI and T20I wins against Sri Lanka? 

KA: We have to look past the series with Sri Lanka as we have some tougher opposition coming up in the shape of England in UAE. It is true that we won the series but then Sri Lanka recently lost two of its most experienced players and their team is in the rebuilding stage. Also Rangana Herath is not as effective has he was before in Test matches and did not play ODIs also. Make no mistake, we played well to win the series but we have to look to continue to maintain and improve on this form. We will need to play cricket without fear of losing and every player will need to support and play for their captain.

PP: How do you rate Azhar Ali as an ODI player and captain? 

KA: Azhar Ali has put in some amazing performances for the Pakistan ODI team. This is really commendable when you see that he hardly got a chance to play in ODIs and was always considered a Test player. But when he got the chance, he showed everyone what he was capable of as we saw in the three ODI series he has played in as a batsman and captain. The PCB has to be congratulated for their bold decision to make Azhar the captain of the ODI team and as far as players are concerned, their job is to support and help Azhar do his job. Criticism and doubt about his abilities is the work of ex-players and media and they should be left to their devices. The players just need to deliver their end of the bargain and not care about who is captain or other such matters. The only way the captain and the team will be successful is when the players will concentrate on their roles and not indulge in any sort of politics which undermines the authority of the captain. One hopes that those days are behind us. As long as the captain is leading from the front with his own performance then there is nothing to discuss.

PP: Do you think Umar Akmal has been treated right by the selectors? 

KA: All I will ask of Umar is to not worry about such matters and only look to improve and maintain his performance. Having said that, he has always dedicated himself to serving the team as that is his only goal. This has also been the goal of all three of us brothers regardless of whichever level of cricket we play. In Umar’s case, the maturity in his batting is for all to see but utilizing that maturity is ultimately the responsibility of the captain and the coach. They are best placed to decide as to which batting position is best suited for him to be able to deliver his best performance for the team. 

(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion where the article first appeared)