Exclusive Interview: Umar Akmal
I'd like to thank Umar Akmal for taking the time out to answer the questions asked by PP members, he's due to fly out to Malaysia tomorrow and so he could have easily refused.
A special mention must go to Adnan Akmal for helping us get in touch with his brother Umar Akmal and a huge thanks to Noddy Bhai for helping us sort out the timing for the interview to ensure we didnt miss Umar before he left for Malaysia!
I'd also like to thank the PPers for continually providing us with quality questions which always positively surprise the interviewees who are used to being asked useless masala questions by the media!
The quality of questions asked by PPers is what makes PP interviews the best. Thanks to everyone for the joint effort, keep it up!!
PakPassion.Net: You have a very talented family, first there's Kamran who's played knocks like Mohali and Karachi. Then there's Adnan who has been described as the best pure keeper in Pakistan by the likes of Bob Woolmer. And now you are one of the stars of the u19 team. Will there be any more Akmal brothers to watch out for?
Umar Akmal: It's only us three brothers that play cricket in my family. I wouldnt say I'm a star I'm just trying my best to play as good as I can and perform to the best of my abilities. I hope that I can continue playing like this in the future and I intend to work hard on my game to give myself the best chance.
PakPassion.Net: Where did it all the interest in cricket start for your family?
Umar Akmal: It was my dad's dream that his sons should play for Pakistan, thankfully Kamran Bhai has made his dream come true. As for me personally I became interested in cricket because of Kamran, I grew up watching him play and his desire rubbed off on me. My own dream is to one day play for Pakistan alongside Kamran Bhai and I'm working hard to try and achieve that goal.
PakPassion.Net: Who were your cricketing heroes when growing up? Pakistani and non-Pakistani.
Umar Akmal: When I started cricket it was Kamran who I used to look upto, he was developing his game and at the same time he would spend time with me and help me as much as he could. I also grew up watching and enjoying the batting of Inzamam, Dravid, Sachin and Ponting. From the newer players I really like Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.
PakPassion.Net: Malik and Hafeez? Why those two?
Umar Akmal: Well Malik is a real fighter with the bat, he has a never say die attitude and will fight to the last ball. Hafeez and I both play for Sui Gas and he is someone who really made time to help me develop my game and to give me lots of tips to help me become the best player that I can. Also I bowl and so do both of them, I see a lot of similarities between us as players.
PakPassion.Net: Yes I noticed that you took some wickets against Sri Lanka, what do you bowl?
Umar Akmal: I got three wickets against Sri Lanka in the final (of the recent u19 series) and I was really pleased with myself. I bowl off spin like Malik and Hafeez.
PakPassion.Net: So when did you start to bowl is it a recent thing?
Umar Akmal: I've been bowling since the days of club cricket, I also bowl for the u19 team. Our coach Mansoor Bhai worked a lot on my bowling and told me where I was going wrong, since then I think I've become quite a good bowler.
PakPassion.Net: Dont you think that the Pakistan team already has too many batsmen who bowl spin? There's Malik, Hafeez, Afridi and now Alam. Wouldnt it be better to develop into a batsman who bowls medium pace in order to stand a better chance of getting into the Pakistan team?
Umar Akmal: I dont agree with that, if I'm good enough to be part of the team then they will pick me regardless of whether I bowl spin or seam, it shouldnt matter what the other batsmen bowl.
PakPassion.Net: What sort of coaching have you been receiving?
Umar Akmal: The person who really polished my skills in both batting and bowling was the u19 coach Mansoor Rana, our fielding coach Ijaz Ahmed...
PakPassion.Net: ...is that Ijaz Ahmed the former Pakistan player?
Umar Akmal: Yes the former pakistan player. I have learnt a lot from him when it comes to fielding he is a very experienced and knowledgeable person I've really learnt a lot from him. Our coach Mansoor Rana has really been working hard on my batting, whenever I discover a new weakness in my batting I tell him about it and he works with me to fix the problem.
PakPassion.Net: Other than cricket what are your hobbies?
Umar Akmal: Other than cricket I like flying kites and going on outings with my brothers and friends.
PakPassion.Net: We've read scorecards about your performances but have never seen you bat. Describe your batting style.
Umar Akmal: I think that I play like my brother Kamran, we grew up learning the game together so I feel that my batting style is a lot like his. I like to bat according to what the team needs, if they need me to play fast then I play fast, if they need me to play more carefully then I play more carefully.
PakPassion.Net: What's your favourite shot?
Umar Akmal: My favourite shot is the straight drive.
PakPassion.Net: Your success at the domestic level was nothing short of extraordinary with an average around 78 and strike in the 90s which is unheard for four game period. Tell us about your experience of the QET?
Umar Akmal: I went into the tournament with only one goal, I wanted to be the best batsman in the tournament so that I could get noticed and one day play for the Pakistan team. I wasnt thinking about averages and certainly not about my strike rate, I just wanted to be the best batsman. Unfortunately I wasnt able to be the best batsman, it wasnt until the final that I was told what my average and strike rate were and that's when I realised that I had come so close but I have no regrets because I played for my team.
PakPassion.Net: Well look at it this way, you wanted to get yourself noticed and your performance certainly got you noticed. So in the end you achieved your long term goal.
Umar Akmal: (subdued) I guess.
PakPassion.Net: Have you heard anything from the selectors regarding your brilliant performance this season?
Umar Akmal: I met with the selectors and they congratulated me on my performance, they told me to keep playing well and performing like I have been. I told them that Insha Allah I will.
PakPassion.Net: You're seen as a big hitter, do you rely on power or timing to cross the boundary line?
Umar Akmal: I rely on timing the shot properly.
PakPassion.Net: Are you more of a six hitter or a four hitter?
Umar Akmal: I'm more of an accumulator, I like to build my innings with singles and doubles. Of course if I time the ball well enough and it beats the fielders or I'm hitting the gaps then I pick up a lot of boundaries along the way as well.
PakPassion.Net: What's the biggest six you've ever hit.
Umar Akmal: I was playing first class cricket in Asghar Ali stadium where I hit 4 sixes and each time they were unable to recover the ball, it would have to be one of those. But I prefer to hit the gaps rather than to go for sixes.
PakPassion.Net: What's the fastest score you've ever made?
Umar Akmal: It must have been when I made 248 runs in a first class match. (He scored 248 in 224 balls vs Habib Bank)
PakPassion.Net: Recently you have been opening, but do you consider yourself a middle order batsman or an opener?
Umar Akmal: It's not really a change for me because in club cricket I used to open or bat at 3 and even in some of the domestic matches I batted at 3 so opening or playing one down for the u19 team isnt really a change for me.
PakPassion.Net: Who was the most difficult bowler you’ve faced in domestic matches.
Umar Akmal: I would say that all bowlers are difficult to play, you should always concentrate on building your innings and playing to the best of your ability.
PakPassion.Net: Sure. But take the case of Pietersen who is normally a great batsman but he seems to struggle whenever he comes up against Mohammad Asif, in the same way which bowler would you say troubled you the most in domestic cricket?
Umar Akmal: There's a guy who plays for Lahore called Mohammad Naved who I found quite difficult to play against but I played really carefully and although he took 6 wickets against us I managed to score some runs against him by being very watchful and keeping my head.
PakPassion.Net: When you say he troubled you what do you mean? Was he tempting you to play outside the off stump or was he getting exaggerated inswing?
Umar Akmal: He was swinging the ball both ways and he kept trying to hit me with his bouncers but I told myself that I need to keep my head and play him out. Luckily in the end I survived that encounter and came away with some runs. (Umar came in at 20/2 and scored 65 in 92 balls the second highest score in the innings, Naved took 6 wickets for 91 in 30.4 overs. Sui Gas won the game by 10 wickets)
PakPassion.Net: Who was the most difficult bowler you’ve faced in u19 matches.
Umar Akmal: There was a left arm spin bowler from the England team and a left arm bowler from the Sri Lankan team, I'm not sure of their names but both of them were difficult to bat against.
PakPassion.Net: Who is the fastest bowler you've ever played against in domestic cricket?
Umar Akmal: His name is Aizaz Cheema and he comes from Lahore but he plays for PIA. He's very fast and he swings it at pace too.
PakPassion.Net: How old would you say he is?
Umar Akmal: He's been picked for Punjab to play in the Pentangular Cup, I dont know about his age. I guess he's about 27 or 28. (Aizaz Cheema is 28 and listed as Right-Arm Medium-Fast, FC strike rate of 40.1 (22.55 avg) and List A strike rate of 24.3 (21.44 avg). Interesting!)
PakPassion.Net: That's interesting because we've heard that Mohammad Irshad and Yasir Ali are the fastest guys in domestic cricket.
Umar Akmal: Well you havent seen him bowl, I've faced both Irshad and Ali and it's true that they are quick but I think Aizaz is at least as quick as those two.
PakPassion.Net: What is the best piece of cricketing advice you have been given and by whom?
Umar Akmal: The most useful advice I've ever received is from Mansoor Bhai. He advised me that when a bowler enters his action i move about too much, he said that I should remain completely still until the bowler releases the ball. Then I should decide where I will play this ball, then move into position and play it with confidence, I shouldnt be unsure or wavering whilst the bowler is completing his action. This is the best advice I've ever received and it's improved my game a great deal, I feel I'm a better batsman for it.
PakPassion.Net: That's good news, all the best batsmen are very still at the crease before the bowler releases the ball.
Umar Akmal: Yes it's this sort of advice from Mansoor Bhai which has really helped me score the way I have been recently, he works hard with me to ensure that I'm continuing to improve my game.
PakPassion.Net: Have you any plans to play League cricket in the UK, if not, then that is something that would definitely benefit you!
Umar Akmal: Right now I have no other plan, other than that I want to break into the Pakistan team and play alongside my brother. I dont have any plans to go overseas and play club cricket or county cricket, I only want to concentrate on playing for Pakistan.
PakPassion.Net: Finally how does it feel to be going to the World Cup?
Umar Akmal: It feels great to be going, I'm leaving for Malaysia late tomorrow with the rest of the team. I feel really proud that I'm getting this opportunity to represent my country in a World Cup.
PakPassion.Net: Insha Allah you'll perform really well and Pakistan will bring the cup home again.
Umar Akmal: Insha Allah and thank you for the wishes.