Younus Khan loves fishing — be it in the Arabian Sea or outside the off-stump. Misbahul Haq loves defending — in the middle or behind the mic.
Those things will not change. And by the looks of things, neither will Umar Akmal’s lack of patience, the instinctive strokeplay and his determination to be a star, a performer, the boy all cricket-loving mothers will love to cook for.
Umar has this air of carelessness about him which makes him what he is. He probably doesn’t think of the consequences and that brings about his downfall. At 17, he was chased around the dressing room after pouring water over a teammate. Five years later, he’s still being chased around, now with an axe, with people calling for his banishment from the horizon altogether.
Leave him to do what he wants
In Pakistan, parents try and force their young ones to use their right hands to write, eat and greet (even if the kid is left-handed by birth). Sometimes it works. More often though, they give up and let nature be. Umar should be free to act his trade, to play his shots and score the amount of runs he wants to the way he wants to. At this age, despite having played 129 matches for Pakistan, taking the team past the finish line should not be his responsibility. It’s a team game, they say, and while the onus lies with all 11, the other 10 have a certain level of responsibility too.
The gelled hair, the coloured lip-balm (which is nowhere to be seen now), the earphones and the mischief with other young members of the team show Umar is enjoying himself and his cricket. The fame, the following and the recognition has given way to defiance and the attitude of a superstar – one who would easily take on dozens of gangsters in a Pakistani film and be the last man standing with minor grazes. He respects his seniors – on the surface at least – but his seniors want him to respect the bowler too, and to let his head do the talking, not the bat.
Not for the sake of comparison, but Sachin Tendulkar was left to drive, flick and pull at will early in his career. The seniors took care of the results, Tendulkar took care of his passion and determination – the records came along the way. Waqar Younis was told to bowl fast. Shahid Afridi was told to deposit the ball into the stands (in that Nairobi innings, at least). The understanding and the adjustment came later (in most of the afore-mentioned cases), after they had made their mark being raw and inexperienced. Even Mohammad Hafeez, prior to his resurrection on the tour of England in 2010, averaged under 19 in ODIs, scoring just 874 runs in four years. In the last 30 months, Pakistan’s Twenty20 captain has scored 2,018, including four centuries. Time, patience and persistence teach a lot of things.
Umar’s international career, in its fourth year, has many highlights already — the infamous back problem after the Sydney humiliation, the mature head against West Indies in Johannesburg 2009, that 64 against Australia in Birmingham in 2010 and the camera zooming in on him on the Dubai dressing room stairs after he was dismissed for 91, the discontent and frustration visible. But with Misbah, Younus, Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal around him, Umar needs to be left in his own world (on the pitch). Time will take care of the attitude, seriousness and understanding the responsibility of wearing the green cap.
What’s important is his hunger to play cricket, with passion and self-assurance his driving force. He’s embarrassed to be the 12th man (because he knows he has what it takes to be in the playing-XI), wary of his reputation and ego. He’s also aware that, going forward, being omitted is not a good sign for a player.
At times, he’s like an arrow released with much power, unerring in direction, tearing through the wind and all that lies between him and his aim. On other occasions, he’s just a feather in the air.
Luckily for him, Misbah and Hafeez are at the helm, the same partnership he plays with at his club SNGPL. Kamran is also there for a slap on the wrist – perhaps more – and his talent has taken him up to the door of selection. He has a whole bunch of keys with which he can unlock that door, walk through and shut it firmly behind him.
But Umar, with too much happening inside his head, wants to throw away the bunch and pull that door right off its hinges.
The writer is Sports Editor of The Express Tribune
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2013.