THE recent controversy where Umar Akmal revealed that he had been approached by bookies and offered thousands of dollars has opened a hornet’s nest. The ICC are scrambling to know more about it especially since some of the recent results around the world have been found suspicious.
Added to that the earlier revelation that there was an attempt by bookies to have the pitch fixed for an international game, which also lured in Hasan Raza, has caused another headache for the PCB.
Then there has been the accusations that some Australian cricketers were involved during a tour of India, a charge vehemently denied by Cricket Australia.
Fortunately or unfortunately all have died down and surely are being investigated behind the official set of the game — the playing fields. Fortunately so that the game of cricket is not sullied and unfortunately because sweeping issues under the carpet doesn’t help.
Add into all that the ball-tampering exposé in South Africa and the banning of Smith, Warner and Bancroft has led to managements stepping down or indicating it will. First, there was Sutherland of CA who resigned eventually and now Dave Richardson, the CEO of ICC, has said he will be stepping down as well after the 2019 World Cup.
Richardson was one of the South African players who played alongside and under Hansie Cronje, the future South African captain who admitted to fixing results of international matches in cahoots with bookies from India. Richardson was there when the South Africans surprisingly kept hitting balls in the air to lose a 1996 World Cup match in Karachi against West Indies, which they were well set to win.
Perhaps he has seen the writing on the wall and thought it sensible to step down before all hell breaks loose and more disclosures come forth. In today’s world of technology and spying through micro devices who knows what a newspaper might throw up and reveal. He has already said it is impossible to stop fixing completely.
But to come back to Umar Akmal, it has been predictably stupid of him to reveal after so many months of being approached. I feel the objective has been to show himself as a patriot, especially after there was the news that Hasan Raza may have been involved with bookies, something Hasan has vehemently denied and perhaps rightly so as there is no proof that he took any steps to further it.
Umar Akmal is also feeling the pinch I think of being left out of the national squad time and again. Fitness is cited as the reason but clearly Mickey Arthur and Sarfraz Ahmed, against whom the Akmal brothers held a clear front when he was trying to get himself in the team, have no desire to have him back.
The timing of his revelation that he was approached but denied for the love of Pakistan could be for two reasons. Either he is nervous that something might come out where he was in the wrong place at the wrong time like Hasan Raza and to preempt it or that he sincerely feels that he has been given a raw deal considering how Pakistan struggled against England’s seam attack at Headingley. There some experts pointed out that Pakistan need some experience in the middle order and Akmal felt the time is right to get himself back in the news.
The World Cup in England beckons in a year and Pakistan may not be as lucky as they were in last year’s ICC Champions Trophy when Sri Lanka let them out of the bag for Sarfraz to lead them home and into the knockout stages.
Pakistan have been unable to find similar form in the subsequent twelve months as they did in the Champions Trophy semi-final and final, and have primarily won T20 games.
With Hafeez struggling for runs and Asad Shafiq also not working out in the middle order, Pakistan desperately need alternates. Asif Ali and Hussain Talat have disappointed, save for an innings now and then, and neither have players like Umar Amin and Imam-ul-Haq delivered in ODIs when pitched against better teams.
Umar Akmal has also indicated that he is willing to bat at No.3 and the day is not far when he’ll offer to open as well. Any which way he can make a return. With Pakistan trying out Haris Sohail as opener in the game against Zimbabwe in the T20 tri-series shows how desperate they are to find a partner for Fakhar. He was selected as specialist opener since he didn’t bowl when Hussain Talat did.
Despite all the criticism Umar has received can there still be a possibility that he makes it to the Pakistan squad? The ‘home’ series against Australia and New Zealand beckons and then the tour of South Africa. Though Imam can be a success in ODIs as well and should get the nod, the likes of Asif Ali and Hussain Talat seem a big risk considering their inconsistent performance in Zimbabwe.
All will depend on how Umar performs in the coming domestic season and how strong his influencers are with the selectors, either through Najam Sethi or someone from Board of Governors. That can be his only salvation, as neither Inzamam nor the team management and skipper would be willing to go out on a limb for him.
Originally Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2018