RINGSIDE VIEW - Kamran Akmal is a one-man demolition team – for his own side. No Pakistan team has suffered such misery for so long at the hands of a wicket-keeper so grossly incompetent (ask the lay man in the street anywhere in Pakistan, and he would tell you in chaste local dialect laced with few invectives of what he thinks of his antics behind the stumps, with an insinuation or three). The mystery is that after being ceaselessly dented by the elder Akmal, how the Pakistani selectors have singularly failed in their endeavours to find a replacement for someone as inept as him. Is our cupboard as bare and barren as this?
Against New Zealand, where a win would have doubly assured the greenshirts of a spot in the quarter-final, the entire Pakistan team and its think tank were found lacking. Perhaps the idea was, why not make things difficult when they could be made easy. But the epitome was Kamran. He has done well, and occasionally won Pakistan some matches, in a handful few against arch enemy India through him we wrested glory literally from the jaws of ignominy.
But that was mostly with the willow, and those so few occasions have long been buried under the weighty package of so much controversy and such mind-bogglingly expensive missed opportunities. Against the Black Caps Tuesday, off Shoaib Akhtar when he was making the ball do a bit of old-fashioned talking, Akmal didn’t go for a sitter so within his range that a ‘keeper struck with a case of sudden paralysis may have gobbled it without stretching. Another opportunity beckoned in the same over, and it came to hands too, but, lo and behold, it was let slip as if the ball was on fire.
That, as it transpired, sealed the match for us, for the beneficiary on both occasions was Ross Taylor, the guy who batted like a bolt intent on rampage in the slog overs to annihilate our by-then pretty decent bowling effort. On his turn at one-drop, Akmal was a strokeless wonder. Didn’t last long, and putting paid to Pakistan’s prospects were our two stabilizers, Younus Khan not knowing where his off stump was and Misbah allowing the leading edge to be induced in an airy fairy manner. The younger, more prodigious of Akmal brothers, Umar was not keen to save the family’s blushes either and got out to a reckless, ungainly heave that was only meant to be pouched deep-square of the leg.
The cavalier Razzaq and adventurous Umar Gul tried but the task was in the range of exceptionally difficult for that key element in a chase, the wickets, were not in hand. Though the ever so slim hope remained till the two were there, it was not one of those evenings when prayers have wings of their own. Kamran was the stand-out failure, but the mess was spread far and wide in Team Pakistan.
Shunning an aggressive spinning option in Saeed Ajmal and opting for Abdur Rehman was a bad call. Total disintegration of bowling and fielding at the Taylor-Orum onslaught reflected lack of self-belief in the skipper and the rank and file. No team has so far had a hundred per cent record in this version of the World Cup. So, while Pakistan does not look as indestructible as it would have had they beaten New Zealand with breath to spare, there is opportunity to redeem itself. But the bar has to be set far higher in all departments of the game for Shahid Afridi and his charges to be fit enough to deserve to desire a serious claim at its second Cup in twenty years.