KANDY, Sri Lanka: Pakistan’s cricketers seemed like a happy bunch of kids enjoying a game of football as they began a marathon training session here at the Asgiriya Stadium on Thursday morning.
Younis Khan celebrated like Ronaldo as he scored a clever goal while skipper Shahid Afridi kept marshalling his troops quite vocally from the other side of the field. It certainly looked like a happy team. But as they say, looks can be deceptive. As the training session progressed, one could witness the various sub-plots swirling around the main story.
Brothers Umar and Kamran Akmal looked tense as they took turns with the gloves for some ‘keeping practice. Coach Waqar Younis could be seen trying to teach Ahmed ‘the kid’ Shehzad some lessons as the youngster, who has failed as an opener in all four of Pakistan’s outings at World Cup 2011, tried to shy away from the tough training session.
After taking a day’s rest following their stunning 110-run loss against New Zealand here on Tuesday, Pakistan returned to work with a lot of vengeance. The Pakistan team officials know that they have to fix a lot of things ahead of their next World Cup game, against Zimbabwe on March 14. Perhaps more importantly, they have to regroup before meeting defending champions Australia in their last Pool A game in Colombo five days later.
The focus, meanwhile, remained on Kamran Akmal. The calamitous wicketkeeper let Pakistan down by allowing centurion Ross Taylor a double reprieve in Tuesday’s game and could face the axe for the match against Zimbabwe.
At Thursday’s training session, there were early indications that Kamran might be asked to sit on the sidelines when Umar took the ‘keeping gloves while his elder sibling sat under the shade below the dressing rooms.
But it took just about ten minutes for Kamran to decide that he will return to the training session. He took the gloves from Umar, who then jogged his way towards the boundary line for some catching practice.
Kamran was seen diving with a lot of more agility than he did in Pakistan’s last World Cup game but even in the practice session, he dropped a couple of catches. Later, he took his turn for some batting practice in the nets.
He has been under intense fire for his terrible showing behind the stumps against the Black Caps and it was pretty visible that Kamran is under a lot of pressure. When a few reporters sought the team management’s permission to interview him, their request was turned down politely. “Let him (Kamran) be,” said Intikhab Alam, the Pakistan team manager.
“I think that we should leave him alone for the time being. He is under a lot of pressure and the media spotlight might only add to it,” he stressed. So have the team officials managed to diagnose what’s ailing Kamran?
“It’s all in his head,” Intikhab told ‘The News’. “I believe more than anything do with his form or fitness, it’s a mental problem. May be he (Kamran) has been unable to recover from what has been happening around him and some of his fellow players,” he added, referring to suspicions of match-fixing that revolved around Kamran and a few other Pakistan cricketers in the lead up to the World Cup.
Meanwhile Waqar Younis, the Pakistan coach, stayed glued to the nets as he kept a watchful eye on his bowlers. But he did come towards the dressing room and asked for Ahmed Shehzad to come out. The faltering opener was taking a breather but Waqar ordered him to go for a jog with two of his senior teammates — Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.
The 19-year-old huffed and puffed as he jogged at a gentle pace even as his seniors jogged with an enviable ease. It was apparent that Ahmed, who has flopped miserably in his last four World Cup outings, isn’t just out of form. The little boy with a big attitude is also out of shape.