A member of Pakistan’s 2009 Twenty20 World Cup winning team, Kamran Akmal has represented Pakistan 268 times, scoring 6871 runs and taken 369 catches. He is currently a key member of the Peshawar Zalmi side in the Pakistan Super League and is a senior member of the Central Punjab squad in domestic cricket.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Akmal praised Mohammad Rizwan for his recent performances on the tour of England, discussed what Sarfaraz Ahmed needs to do to re-establish himself in the Pakistan side, focused on why performance and not age should be the criteria for representing Pakistan, discussed Haider Ali’s promising future, and spoke about why England are the side to beat when it comes to limited-overs cricket.
By Amir Husain (11th September, 2020)
PakPassion.net: Has Mohammad Rizwan done enough to make himself the first-choice wicket-keeper for Pakistan in all formats?
Kamran Akmal: Considering this was Rizwan’s first tour of England, his performances were unbelievably good. I can assure you that it’s extremely difficult to perform well in England as a wicket-keeper. We have seen some fairly good keepers struggle there including the likes of current England wicket-keeper Jos Buttler. From my experience, I had issues keeping in England and the only three wicket-keepers who have done well in England in my view are Matt Prior, Mohammad Rizwan and Tim Paine. So, one must give credit to Rizwan for all his hard work which resulted in some outstanding performances.
Whilst he has done well in Tests, I feel that in the shorter formats and especially Twenty20s, he is struggling a bit to find a place in the side. The only solution to this is for Rizwan to establish himself as an opener as that would not only make him indispensable but also result in an excellent team combination. However, I will sound a note of caution here and request the selectors to make sure that if they play Rizwan in other formats then they must judge him on specific formats only – it should not be the case that he loses his place in Tests if he doesn’t perform well in T20Is or vice versa.
PakPassion.net: What now for Sarfaraz Ahmed? Is his international career coming to an end?
Kamran Akmal: He captained Pakistan sides for almost 3 years before he was dropped but he now has a clear path in front of him if he wishes to make a comeback in the national side. He must concentrate on not only doing well in domestic cricket as a wicket-keeper but also as a captain. I would like him to bat in the top order so that he can push himself and demonstrate his utility. Especially when it comes to Twenty20 or One-Day cricket, I would like him to bat up the order and possibly open the innings as currently he comes too late to bat which really doesn’t give him a chance to score many runs. Similarly, in red-ball cricket, he needs to bat at the number 4 or 5 position and showcase his talent there too which will benefit him in the long run.
Kamran Akmal: The only reason any player should play for Pakistan is because he can help the national side win games. Whether its Sarfaraz Ahmed or Mohammad Rizwan is irrelevant as long as they are doing their job correctly. The only way to find such players is to use the criteria of performance in whichever format of the game we are considering. If for example, Asad Shafiq is doing well in red-ball cricket, there is no need to try and slot him in the shorter-formats.
Similarly, as in the case of Wahab Riaz, if he is not available or comfortable in Tests, then don’t force him to play in that format and play him in Limited-overs matches only and judge him for those performances, instead of bringing up his decision to not play Test cricket. I feel that this is the type of thinking that Misbah-ul-Haq will need to use when building our teams and is also something he needs to clearly communicate to his selectors as well.
We know that Misbah himself has been through a similar situation to many cricketers, including myself find themselves in and he must be clear in his selection policy which should be performance-based and not about a ‘like and dislike’ culture. The selectors also need to watch out for cases like that of Fakhar Zaman who has been given plenty of chances but has not been able to score that well. It’s in his interest that he goes away and does well in domestic cricket or else his long-term chances will be badly damaged by his continuing run of low scores.
PakPassion.net: Would you agree that many selection decisions seem to be based on knee-jerk reactions?
Kamran Akmal: I have seen this happen too often when people seem to write off international cricketers without knowing how much they have struggled to get into the national side and it’s become far too easy for people to say that a certain cricketer is now finished so let’s replace him. We had so many people including ex-cricketers talking about replacing Mohammad Hafeez and now that he has stood up and helped Pakistan win games, they don’t have a leg to stand on and hopefully they have learnt their lesson now.
An even greater tragedy is that people have started to criticize our number one batsman, Babar Azam, saying that he isn’t scoring runs at a fast-enough rate or isn’t winning enough games. What is becoming of us? If we wish to improve things then instead of looking down on a player like Babar, we should spend our energy motivating him. But once again, I feel that the team management needs to make sure that all players in the squad are looked after and given confidence instead of preferring to concentrate and spend energies on a select few who are their favourites.
PakPassion.net: Did Pakistan make a mistake in inducting Naseem Shah into the national side without too much experience under his belt?
Kamran Akmal: I feel that Naseem Shah is an outstanding talent and I hope and pray he continues to do well for Pakistan in the future and it was great that he was given an opportunity to play against England in all three Tests. However, once we had seen him do well in the first Test, there was no need to have played him in the remaining 2 Tests as he is still learning.
But that did happen, and this was due to our selection policies and some strange desire for change which sees us discard trusted performers and start hyping players like Naseem. God Forbid if the newcomers fail, the same television pundits and ex-cricketers who were so confident and hyping Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi to the moon will do a full U-turn and start to criticize them as if they were the root cause of all problems. This needs to stop and a sensible approach needs to be adopted as now a bowler like Naseem Shah will be under constant pressure which cannot be good for his development.
PakPassion.net: How would you rate Misbah-ul-Haq’s performance as the Head Coach/Chief Selector?
Kamran Akmal: Misbah has been given the dual role by the PCB for a certain period and it’s only fair that he be allowed to complete that tenure and of course he should be answerable for his policies during that period. I understand that he is facing a lot of criticism from all and sundry on television shows and social media and to remove him from his position because of this sort of pressure would be totally wrong. But before blaming Misbah, let’s be clear about who is to blame for the current situation with the Pakistan side.
Misbah and the current management at PCB can only bear about 10% of the blame but the real fault lies with the people who left us in this mess, namely Mickey Arthur and his predecessor. Those are the people we should make accountable for our current situation. As for Misbah, he is best placed to be at the position he is in because he has seen Pakistan cricket from the ground-up during his time as a domestic cricketer, and I would once again ask that he be allowed to complete his contract and for all questioning to be done at that point.
PakPassion.net: Haider Ali must have impressed you a lot?
Kamran Akmal: There is no doubt that Haider is an outstanding talent as he has recently shown on his debut in England. Peshawar Zalmi also need to be credited for picking him at the PSL draft and nurturing him and he duly obliged with some excellent performances during PSL 5. But the PCB need to ensure that they should stop his future coaches from changing his natural game. Let his technique remain the same as that is what he is blessed with – all he needs now is for coaches to make sure that he plays with a positive mindset.
Haider has all the shots in his armoury; he can play the cut shot, the pull, orthodox and the slog sweep – he can even rotate the strike when needed. These are the exact qualities that have got him into the Pakistan side so no changes are required. We have seen in the past that players like Fakhar Zaman have come in with much promise but possibly due to over coaching have now been reduced to nothing. The same happened to Nasir Jamshed who hit two hundreds in India but bad coaching ensured that he went downhill after that.
PakPassion.net: Is it right to fast-track players into the Pakistan team based upon PSL performances?
Kamran Akmal: It’s better that this question be asked to the previous team management because this whole style of selection started in their time. We are ranked number 4 in T20Is, 6 in ODIs and are number 7 in ICCs Test team rankings. Need I say more? I feel for many the reality will hit them when the World Test Championship comes to an end and they see our ranking at that time.
We could not win against a second-string England T20 side and lost to an England Test side which was lacking in many aspects. It has come to the stage where the better teams in white-ball cricket treat us like a Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, or a current Sri Lanka side. The reason for that is this ‘fast-tracking’ style of selection we have developed in recent times. There is this idea that by bringing in new players based on a few good performances will change our fortunes. To me, this culture of ‘fast-tracking’ youngsters without proper development is hurting Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net: How else can new talent be brought into the Pakistan side?
Kamran Akmal: Did India get rid of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag after the 2007 World Cup in the name of fast-tracking youngsters? All these great players stayed until they could help guide the next generation of Indian players and we are seeing the fruits of that policy today. How else do you explain the top-rankings of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma or even the success of a youngster like Lokesh Rahul?
Contrast that to our planning which really is non-existent. In fact, our planning seems to be to make it impossible for decent players like Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Yousuf and Abdul Razzaq to stay in the team – all of whom had a few more years of cricket left in them at the time of their retirements. Even worse was the case of how Younis Khan was dealt with by creating uncertainty in his selection and not communicating plans with him properly, with the result that he was forced to leave the Pakistan side. Had each of these players remained a few more years in the side, they would have helped groom the next generation of excellent cricketers for Pakistan. If things had been handled sensibly, Abdul Razzaq would have left behind an all-rounder in his mould, Shoaib Akhtar would have helped train quality pacers and we would have had a proper successor for Mohammad Yousuf as well.
PakPassion.net: What are your views on the recent controversy regarding senior players being asked to play in the Second XI in domestic cricket?
Kamran Akmal: It’s become ridiculous now as senior players are being asked to make room for Under-19 players in the First XI. Go ahead and provide opportunities for our younger players but do so with some proper planning and let them prove themselves by playing in Division 2. Instead if we start asking players like Salman Butt, Azhar Ali, myself, or Usman Salahuddin to play in the Second XI, then what signal are we sending to them?
The only message this would relay to those players is that they aren’t liked anymore and are not wanted anymore which is an insult. This is completely the wrong way to go about developing our Under-19 cricketers and will only hurt Pakistan cricket in the long term. In England and Australia, Under-19 cricketers do the hard yards in the lower divisions and once they have proven their mettle, they advance to the next stage but in Pakistan we seem to be following the opposite route.
PakPassion.net: Was the decision to eliminate departmental cricket the right one?
Kamran Akmal: I cannot explain what a struggle it is for cricketers who have been affected badly by the elimination of departmental teams. The decision to do away with departmental teams is obviously a decision of the PCB but they should have thought about the fact that by reducing teams, they are depriving young cricketers of the chance to share dressing rooms with experienced cricketers such as Azhar Ali or Salman Butt. This sort of mentoring would have been ideal for them.
PakPassion.net: Were you pleasantly surprised at how Mohammad Hafeez answered his critics during the T20I series against England?
Kamran Akmal: If we didn’t have Mohammad Hafeez in the T20I side in England, Pakistan could have not even won against the England B side which is what that team effectively was. Just imagine how badly things would have turned out for Pakistan had England’s top side turned up as they did against Australia. Even without the services of Ben Stokes, England absolutely hammered Australia in the first two games of the series. So, for those blindly asking for the removal of senior players, my message is to think again and look at what Mohammad Hafeez has to offer to Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: How highly do you rate England in white-ball formats?
Kamran Akmal: Looking at the quality of players and the team combination they have, I would say that there is no team in the world that can beat them in white-ball cricket with possibly the exception of India. In Eoin Morgan, England have an excellent leader and one who has created 2 fantastic ODI and T20I sides with some excellent planning to ensure he has a ready supply of players for each position. We have the likes of Tom Banton, Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy – all set to move into the same batting positions as needed and are able to perform and win games. But above all, the players feel secure even if they are benched because they know that they will not be dropped and will be given an opportunity sooner rather than later.
PakPassion.net: You seem to imply that players are insecure about their future in Pakistan teams?
Kamran Akmal: Unfortunately, yes. It’s the opposite scenario in Pakistan to what we see in England or other world-class sides, where sometimes players with many years of experience are just dumped from the team and no one bothers asking about their welfare. Look at the example of Indian wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha who was unfit to play for almost a year but the BCCI kept faith in him and he repaid that trust by performing so well against Australia. This is the type of planning and coordination that is needed in our cricket too and I hope it will happen in future.