Is PSL phenomenon Kamran Akmal just a step away from Pakistan recall?
When Kamran Akmal blasted another century against the Quetta Gladiators, you couldn't help but wonder with Fakhar out of form, Sarfar out of the side and Rizwan struggling to score quickly, why isn't the veteran in the Pakistan T20I side?
Pakistan do need a batter at the opening slot to partner Babar Azam. They tried Ahsan Ali in the T20I series against Bangladesh but he did not particularly stand out. With Fakhar Zaman out of form and Imam-ul-Haq not being considered for the shortest format, there is a case for Kamran Akmal to be included in the team as an opener.
Pakistan needs a flamboyant wicketkeeper
He will have to discharge the dual responsibility of the wicketkeeper and an opener. Mohammad Rizwan, who has been playing in the team since the sacking of skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed, has a terrible record in T20Is. From 18 games, he has scored just 185 runs at an average of 16.81 and sports an outdated strike rate of 97.8.
The question then is why he is not being included in the T20I team? A major reason that has kept the wicketkeeper from making the side is his age. At 38 years, Akmal is not getting any younger and the management is a bit circumspect about picking him.
However, the same question then clashes with the idea behind the inclusion of veterans Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik. If the duo's age is good enough to be included so should be the case with Akmal.
The wicketkeeper has a fine record in domestic T20 matches with close to 6,000 runs from 250 matches - a rich experience - at an average of 27.52 and an impressive strike rate of almost 135. He has also struck five centuries and as many as 40 half-centuries.
The storm against the Gladiators
It was Akmal's free-flowing century which earned Peshawar Zalmi an emphatic six-wicket victory over title-holder Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League. The wicketkeeper smashed 101 runs off 55 balls and guided Peshawar to 153-4 in 18.3 overs in reply to Quetta's 148-5.
The 38-year-old smashed left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz for two sixes and two fours in a 21-run first over of the innings and then clobbered pacer Sohail Khan for two fours and a six in the second over.
As Akmal hit 13 fours and four sixes to record his third century in the PSL, the milestone came on the back of his PSL tons in the United Arab Emirates against Karachi and Lahore Qalandars in 2017 and 2018 respectively. It was courtesy of his innings that Peshawar Zalmi registered their first victory in the tournament, after losing their opening game against Karachi Kings.
But, when, despite a consistent run in the country's premiere tournament, Akmal does not get considered for the national side, it leads to frustration creeping up in the keeper.
"I don't lose heart but there is a limit. It's been 5 years, you have brought a new system which will have the best quality, best talent and whoever performs will automatically be considered," Akmal recently said in an interview. "Should I go and perform in India or Australia to be considered? I am Pakistan's player, I have been performing since 5 years, how much should I tolerate it?
"If there's someone who is playing ahead of me with fantastic performances, that's fine. I said play me as a wicket-keeper if needed. In T20, there is a spot available but you are forcefully playing someone else. This is Pakistan's team, keep Pakistan in front. If someone is performing, they should be picked."
One among Fakhar, Sarfaraz and Rizwan or Kamran?
Akmal, who is the all-time highest run-scorer of the tournament, had already rattled off 1286 runs from 47 matches at an average of almost 30 and an impressive strike rate of 135 before the beginning of this season. The wicketkeeper-batsman has also taken his PSL century tally to three, to go along with his nine half-centuries. Add to this, his 39 dismissals behind the wickets and you have a genuine match-winner.
The bottom line is if Kamran Akmal has to be picked in the Pakistani T20I side, he has to play at the top as his effectivity reduces quite a bit if he is pushed down the order. If Fakhar Zaman does not make a return to the team, Pakistan will then have to make a choice between former skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed and Kamran Akmal, with Mohammad Rizwan not evoking enough confidence.
This equation says that the elder Akmal still has a very good chance to be back in the Pakistan side, with the T20 World Cup already on the horizon.
©Cricket World 2020