Will return of the prodigal son change Pakistan`s fortunes?
           
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By Khalid H. Khan | 9/12/2016 12:00:00 AM
THERE was never a shadow of doubt about Umar Akmal being reinstated in the national T20 squad for the impeding series against the West Indies.

Once pardoned by Shaharyar Mohammad Khan, octogenarian chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the national selectors were left in no doubt about recalling the prodigal son of Pakistan cricket.

The youngest Akmal`s last month meeting with the PCB chief was like a disobedient boy approaching his grandfather with the plea not to get embroiled in trouble on and off the field again.The actual contents of that one-to-one discussion meeting at the board`s headquarters were never officially reported but one can sense the soft stance adopted by the PCB chairman has set a wrong precedent.

Just last April the outgoing head coach Waqar Younis had revealed in the post-World Twenty20 report to the board, which mystifyingly enough was leaked out, that Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad another player with a history of poor disciplinaryrecord, no longer should be part of the Pakistan team.

In the report Waqar wrote: `I sat with them many times and told them what I wanted from them. I sat with them ahead of the 2015 World Cup and told them what I and the team expected and needed, and what the nation wanted from them. I worked hard on them but unfortunately the passion is not there. The cricketing passion is missing from them.

They need to realise that cricket isn`t just about making money, cricket is not a business and it`s about passion. Sometimes I got the impression that these youngsters don`t offer enough. They are thinking about too many other things and not about cricket.

The former captain, who was one of the most lethal fast bowlers of his era, further said: `Look at the era when I played cricket, with the likes of Inzamam [ul-Haq] and [Wasim] Akram, these guys thought about nothing other than cricket. This is an area where I feel these youngsters are lacking.

Umar and Ahmed need to pull their socks up if they want to get back into the team. Talent will only take you to a certain level, after that it`s hard work that will carry you forward. We have seen enough of their talent and if they are not prepared to work hard then we may not see them again in the Pakistan team.

In another appraisal of Akmal, Waqar stated: `Umar Akmal was asked by Haroon Rasheed [former chief selector] to come the next day forfitness test to join the team in Sri Lanka for the ODIs, instead he chose to catch a flight to Caribbean for a lucrative league without informing anyone. Few months later, when he was caught in the Hyderabad incident or misbehaving with his domestic team coach, all times he managed to retain his place back in team. Is this the criteria we are setting for selection of new players? `Andrew Symonds was a very talented player for Australia or Kevin Peterson for England but due to their [unacceptable] behaviour they were dropped and never picked again irrespective of their talent.

Are we bold enough to take this step or do we fear media or pressure from different people to play certain players? I can assure you that sacrificing one Umar Akmal will allow us to develop other players who can truly and proudly wear the star on their chest and represent Pakistan.

So how can the PCB be lenient in a matter of just few months to reprieve a player, who sadly has had assumed the role that fitted Shoaib Akhtar perfectly in the previous decade.

With the genial Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan not far off from calling it a day from international cricket after being wonderful servants of Pakistan cricket, the country desperately needs role models for the future generation of cricketers to emulate.

What is the guarantee that Akmal will be on his best behaviour from now onwards and not indulge in acts of indiscipline? Why has the PCB adopted a soft stance at this point in time? We all haveknown credentials of Akmal as a batsman of some pedigree and one who has underperformed time and again.

Hailing from a cricketing family which also produced older brothers Kamran and Adnan Akmal, who both have represented the country with some dignity, the youngest Akmal has thus far tarnished not just Pakistan`s but also his family`s image.

By recalling the son-in-law of legendary leg-spinner Abdul Qadir the PCB has paid scant respect to the critical report that Waqar had diligently prepared to safeguard our cricket from total destruction. This sounds more of pressing the panic button by the PCB given the state of national side`s dwindling limited-overs performance in recent years.

In the interview published on Sunday, Akmal speaks of being on his best behaviour while pledging to stay clear of controversies that had, tragically, derailed his blossoming as a top-class international cricketer.

In two formats Akmal debuted into international cricket after Virat Kohli, arguably one of the finest batsmen on the current circuit, but look where they stand now. Kohli has not just succeeded M.S.

Dhoni as India`s Test and ODI captain but the statistics of the 27-year-old right-hander from Delhi make mindboggling reading.

Often compared by the media as the Pakistani equivalent to Kohli, Akmal`s track record is far off.

Having played 60 One-day Internationals lessthan Kohli, Akmal has just two centuries to an astonishing tally of 25 already chalked up by the Indian superstar. Their averages also make startling reading: Akmal`s 34.67 is way behind 51.51 currently owned by Kohli in a format that Akmal hasn`t played since Pakistan`s quarter-final defeat at the 2015 World Cup against eventual champions Australia.

Akmal`s T20 International stats are less impressive than Kohli`s: eight 50-plus scores compared to 16 by the Indian who averages a remarkable 57.13 in 45 games to Akmal`s 26.80 from 79 matches. Their strike-rates are different: Kohli`s 135.48 comfortably outshine 122.92 maintained by the Pakistani.

Moreover, Mohsin Khan, in his capacity as chief selector in 2011, justifiably punished Akmal for the way he was getting out in the longest form of cricket by terminating his 16-Test career during which Akmal scored 1003 runs with a highest of 129 his only Test century on debut against New Zealand at Dunedin in November 2009.

One facet, which Waqar rightly pointed out in his report, is that Akmal had tendencies of being a reckless batsman and there is loads of such evidence in cricket archives. Now it remains to be seen what the new Akmal has to offer on his comeback to the international arena. Will he be the talisman Pakistan are searching to avoid the humiliation of not qualifying automatically for the 2019 World Cup?
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