With all the recent media focus on Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan there have been some cricketers who, despite having shared the dressing room with the aforementioned, have been starved of the attention and publicity they so richly deserved. To right this wrong in my humble way, here’s a little tribute to five of them:
Umar Akmal: The task of emerging from the shadows of the Herculean figure of elder brother Kamran would have tested the best of men. It certainly tested Umar, and the emerging process is not quite complete yet. The world is watching the same with bated breath. (Kamran, in the meanwhile, has taken off his keeping gloves only to don batting gloves, and God knows when those come off.) When it comes to discipline – or lack thereof – Umar is in the Ian Botham mode, an aggressive character on and off the cricket field. In terms of the number of times he has had run-ins with the cricketing authorities or the law of the land, he has matched Sir Ian, if he hasn’t already surpassed him. If only he can start winning matches like Sir Ian! The fact that he is currently only in the T20 national squad isn’t helping that cause. Back in 2009, Akmal started a promising career: Akmal was compared to Virat Kohli before Babar Azam and Ahmad Shehzad. It can safely be said that Akmal has a glorious past in front of him.
Ahmad Shehzad: Saeed Anwar remains Shehzad’s biggest inspiration. The trouble? Saeed was a leftie while Shehzad’s a right-hander, something which apparently frustrates all attempts of emulation. Like Akmal, Shehzad has had more than his fair share of disciplinary issues. For a while Shehzad used to be the future captain of Pakistan. He holds the world-record for being the ‘find of the tour’ more times than anybody else. A vicious social media campaign targeting his weakness for the selfie, his on-field preaching, and a spate of batting failures has ensured that now he is merely the former future-captain of Pakistan.
Mohammad Hafeez: The ‘professor’ nickname says it all. He appears to have earned it too. By being a thinking, strategising, ‘logical’ cricketer, according to Hafeez, and a bit of a motor-mouth (in a good way), according to P B Broch. Hafeez is equally proficient in batting and bowling – in fact, with ball in hand he is a scourge for left handers, especially when he can let that bowling arm to deviate somewhat from the straight and narrow. Hafeez has his own trademark style of raising his bat in celebration, which will doubtless be referred to in the coming years as the ‘Hafeez pose’. He has been captain, has played all formats, won many an accolade, and yet he is only 36 – which thanks to Misbah makes him practically a youngster. After a sustained presence in the team, the veteran is currently finding himself struggling for a place in the national sides, but only a fool would write him off just yet. In fact, some people envision him playing a role for years to come – some even believe that any good team needs five good batsmen, four good bowlers, one reliable wicket-keeper, and a professor. M. Hafeez concurs.
Azhar Ali: With bat in hand, Ali can put the most alert of spectators to deep sleep, and without taking the law into his hands. He is one batsman who can ensure that the tuk-tuk part of Misbah will not be missed. He used to be the ODI captain and was the undisputed Test captain-in-waiting until in Feb 2017 he relinquished the two jobs when it became clear that he was going to be axed anyway. The official reason given was that captaincy was a drag on his batting. As so often happens in such cases, it was too little too late, and he lost his ODI place altogether, bringing scores of spectators back. It’s clear from his sedentary Test batting since that the unmistakable drag on his batting must have been something other than captaincy. Losing it means that he won’t be bowling any more leg-break googlies.
Wahab Riaz: An aggressive left-arm fast bowler. While he doesn’t satisfy the Shoaib Akhtar conditions for a real fast bowler (his walk-back to the top of his mark being too quick as far as Akhtar is concerned), he definitely gives it his all. His overall stats may not amount to much but he has to his credit some memorably aggressive spells – among them two in successive World Cups. His spell to Watson in 2015 especially saw him bring Test-like aggression to ODI bowling, although the subsequent flying-kiss failed to impress the puritans. He may not be world’s best, or even Pakistan’s best for that matter; but he is definitely the greatest among fast bowlers suffering from chronic rhinosinusitis.