Jan 2006 – Keeping it Together

A new year of cricket, and a new year of Cricket Web’s Player of the Month awards. Happy Birthday to us, and so on and so forth. I’ve just about got over the sulking that followed being over-ruled as to the identity of the 2005 Player of the Year. To me it was Freddie – I don’t care if England lost in Pakistan. I don’t care if Shane Warne took more wickets than anyone else ever had before. Summer 2005 swung on the Ashes, and the Ashes swung on Freddie. There, it’s off my chest. It had to be said. Onwards into the new year…

Twelve months ago, the inaugural player of the month award fell to Matthew Hoggard, his swing bowling proving the difference as England won in South Africa. January 2006, on the other hand, belonged almost exclusively to the batsman. Only Rudra Pratap Singh’s debut four-wicket haul and Irfan Pathan’s first morning hat trick at Karachi brightened the bowlers’ outlook of runs, runs and then some more runs. Harbhajan Singh went wicketless for 355 runs in two Tests as India and Pakistan tallied towering totals at Faisalabad and Rawalpindi.

Sanath Jayasuriya overcame a bizarre shower-related injury to return to his blazing best in a VB Series characterised by player rotation and far too many games for any neutral to maintain interest in. Ricky Ponting, meanwhile, avoided the pyjama parties by taking time out on the golf course after his twin centuries at Sydney, the hosts making a mockery of a sporting final-day declaration by Graeme Smith.

The height of the butchery was nevertheless reserved for the subcontinent, as strips of lifeless mud combined to create two result-free Tests beneath mountains of boundaries and Mahendra Dhoni’s new ball burst. Shahid Afridi finally began to threaten to fulfil his eight-year-old potential for devastation, adding the block, the leave and a measure of circumspection to his game – before reminding everyone that he was still capable of hitting four consecutive sixes.

At Lahore, Virender Sehwag continued his long-standing love affair with the Pakistani bowling attack, bludgeoning 264 as he and Rahul Dravid added a 410-run opening stand that fell only three short of countrymen Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy’s all-time mark. Pakistan’s middle-order pair of Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan merely picked up where they had left off against England, rocketing their partnership into series folklore beyond names from the history books as iconic as Javed Mianded and Zaheer Abbas. As a pair, they have now added exactly 2000 runs between them in 27 liasons, seven of them crossing three figures.

Yet at the National Stadium, on January 29, Pakistan found themselves 39 for six. Pathan had sent both Younis and Yousuf back to the pavilion, having faced one ball apiece, Zaheer Khan added Faisal Iqbal and Afridi, whilst Rudra Pratap collected Imran Farhat. The stage was set for India to wrap up Pakistan’s tail and build themselves a platform for victory.

Abdul Razzaq was joined by Kamran Akmal, the 24-year-old wicketkeeper with three Test centuries already to his name – 154 against England followed by an unbeaten 102 at Lahore this season, and the rearguard, match-saving 109 he struck in tandem with Razzaq at Chandigarh a year ago. With the all-rounder at his side once more, he set about hauling the game away from the Indians. Unhurried, uncomplicated and unabashed – but equally uncompromising and unwilling to back down – Akmal kept his side’s run rate above four per over, collecting eighteen boundaries in his stay. The 115-run stand with Razzaq was followed by an 82-run liaison, forged with the determined Shoaib Akhtar. By the time he fell, caught behind off Pathan, his team were in position too claim an unlikely first innings lead, and eventually series triumph.

The series might have seen fifteen centuries, and Younis and Yousuf might have shared a thousand runs between them, but Kamran’s effort was worth far more than any of them. With a crucial 78 contributed at Rawalpindi, covering as opening batsman in the absence of Shoaib Malik and Inzamam-ul-Haq, and eleven dismissals behind the wicket to his name, Kamran’s January was about more than weight of runs.

It was about winning the series.

Cricket Web Player of the Month
January 2006

Kamran Akmal

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