No PCB central contract: Is this the end of Umar Akmal?
Pakistan cricket, after a very long time, has been in the news for all the right reasons. The Sarfraz Ahmed-led team - which was ranked eighth before the start of the Champions Trophy - went on to claim the title at the expense of arch-rivals India in the final.
During all the celebrations, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced the list of 35 players included in the central contracts for the next year on Wednesday.
Few of the important developments which took place in the contract list is the promotion of pacer Mohammad Amir from category C to A, Wahab Riaz’s demotion from category B to C, and the inclusion of some new faces such as pacers Hasan Ali, leg-spinner Shadab Khan and opener Fakhar Zaman.
The list also features major notable absentees, which includes tall left-armer Mohammad Irfan, openers Sharjeel Khan, Khalid Latif for their involvement in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) spot-fixing scandal, and middle-order batsman Umar Akmal for apparently failing to maintain his fitness.
This is the first time Umar missed out on the board’s central contract since he made his debut for Pakistan back in 2009, which leads many to question as to what has exactly gone wrong with the man who was tipped as the next big thing when he arrived with a stunning century against Sri Lanka.
Umar’s career has the look of a roller-coaster ride, where he blossomed and failed time and again, which often led to heavy criticism.
However, it is pretty clear that this time around, the 27-year-old has forced the board’s hand, not with his poor display for the team, but with his laid-back attitude towards fitness and lack of discipline.
Ever since a new combination of Mickey Arthur as coach and former captain Inzamam-ul-Haq as chief selector was formed after the team’s dismal performance in the World T20 2016, the duo made it clear time and again that fitness is pivotal for selection in the team.
That was the same reason as to why the team spent a month in Kakul last year before the England tour, where they were made to train with the army trainers.
But Umar seemed to miss the bus, not once, but over and over again. He kept gaining weight and clearly become out of shape in the past year or so, and with that it also seems that his knowledge of the game becomes weaker, not only in the international cricket but also in the domestic circuit.
The hunger you want to see in an international cricketer representing his nation at the top level is invisible in the Lahore-born batsman, which is clearly the cause of frustration for the team management and selection committee.
He was dropped on fitness grounds first from the West Indies tour and then from the Champions Trophy squad, but that was not only the issue which led to his dismissal from the squad.
Umar’s numbers over the years also prove that he is not the man the board thought he was; he averages just 27.12 in his last 38 innings in the ODI format, with a strike rate of just over 87. Prior to that, Umar’s average in 27 innings was 40.5, which is quite acceptable for the middle-order batsman.
During that time, the right-handed batsman kept complaining about his batting number and how he wanted to bat at number four, but even at that position his average is a mere 14, with a highest score of just 21.
After the World T20I exit in 2016, Pakistan’s ex-coach and former pacer Waqar Younis famously criticised Umar with these words, “People will have to take a hard look at themselves. Those who were shouting about not getting to bat in the position they want, this was their perfect opportunity. You can cry all you want, you can talk all you want, we are just not good enough.”
Perhaps he was a bit too harsh, or he was just disappointed in general, but it is a fact that Umar’s progress is a shadow of what he promised eight years back.
It seems Umar has been around forever, but even then he is still only 27, which means all is not lost.
However, as the clock ticks, it is evident that Umar’s competition in every position in the middle-order is increasing day by day, and rest assured the board are already planning on life beyond him if he won’t sort out his problems in the near future.