S. Dinakar

The promise in Umar Akmal and Gavin Tonge is immense

Centurion: The promise in Umar Akmal and Gavin Tonge is immense. The low-scoring Group ‘A’ duel between Pakistan and the West Indies was not without its moments.

The 19-year-old Umar, younger brother of Pakistan’s famous wicketkeeper batsman Kamran Akmal, is an exciting prospect.

He’s a good timer of the ball with wonderful hand-eye coordination. And he displayed character during his fighting unbeaten 41 on a lively Wanderers pitch on Wednesday night.

This was an innings where he took a couple of blows on the body but batted on. The ball was flying around and it was a laudable effort by someone new to international cricket from the sub-continent.

“I have a lot of time for Umar. He’s got a bright future and we expect a great deal from him,” said Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam.

Unfazed

Umar appears to be unfazed by the big stage. His unbeaten 102 against Sri Lanka during the ODI series in the emerald islands this year was a stroke-filled effort against a varied attack.

The right-hander has 223 runs in five ODIs at 77.66 with a stunning strike rate of 103.55. He adds weight to Pakistan’s late middle-order.

Umar possesses a creditable record in first-class cricket. He has 1930 runs in 26 matches at 52.16. And his exploits in under-19 cricket for Pakistan hurried his progress to the Pakistan team.

Asked about his effort against the West Indies, he said, “The pitch was doing a bit and it was not easy. We were also struggling a little. But I got a boost when coach Intikhab saab walked up to me and said bat positively.”

Intikhab said the pitch at the Wanderers was difficult for batting. “It is early in the season and there was some uneven bounce. It was not easy to time the ball. I am surprised that they (the West Indies) elected to bat. We would have bowled first. The West Indians bowled well, with a bit of pace and stuck to a very good line. Now we will have to play at Centurion where the pitch would be different.”

The coach revealed that captain Younus Khan, who missed the game with a hairline fracture, batted at the nets for an hour on Wednesday. “I am quite sure that he will play the next game (against India on Saturday).”

Intikhab’s appreciation

Intikhab had words of praise for his paceman Mohammed Aamer and Umar Gul; both relished bowling at the Wanderers. “Umar Gul is very committed. The young Aamer is very talented,” he said.

Tonge too appears a paceman with a future. He revelled on a responsive surface, bowling with control and common sense off a smooth run-up and a high-arm action.

The 26-year-old paceman from Antigua finished with four for 25. “You had to put the ball in the right spot and allow the pitch to do the rest,” he said. Tonge consistently probed the batsmen in the corridor.

Wednesday’s rich haul were his first four wickets in ODI cricket in three matches. “It was my kind of pitch and I was coming in to a nice rhythm. There was good bounce and carry.”

The pacemen has picked up 75 wickets in 26 first-class matches at 27.74. “All of us have performed to get here. I would not call this a second string team. We fought well, showed a lot of energy on the field.”

The turmoil in West Indies cricket has provided the unheralded Tonge an opening in international cricket. He wants to make the most of the opportunity but is not thinking too far ahead. “I just want to perform and leave the rest to the selectors,” is his practical answer.

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