Waqar lauds 'amazing' Akmal
Pakistan coach Waqar Younis described Umar Akmal as one of the most talented players of his generation after watching him spearhead a 23-run win over Australia in the first MCC Spirit of Cricket Twenty20 international.
The 20-year-old smashed 64 off 31 balls at Edgbaston as Pakistan ended their 12-match losing run against Australia in all formats.
He thrilled a partisan crowd and beyond with a sensational display of strokeplay, carrying his side to 167 for eight after they slipped to 47 for four, before Australia were bowled out for 144.
“He is probably the most talented cricketer I have seen in the past 15-20 years,” Waqar said. “We know that he is a talent and he can take us out of trouble. He’s done it in the last few matches.
“At one stage we thought it was going to be very, very difficult, but the way he played was outstanding.
“He’s just amazing. He’s only young - he’s only 20. He’s got heaps of time and he’s a good learner, a good listener, which is good. I have no doubt that he is going to go right to the top.
“He’s very talented. Time will teach him more and he’ll be right up there at the top. He’s fabulous to have in the side.”
Pakistan’s victory ended a losing streak against Australia that has undermined the national team in the past six months.
A winless tour Down Under in the winter was followed by their agonising defeat in the World Twenty20 semi-final, when Mike Hussey struck an unbeaten 60 from 24 balls to salvage a seemingly lost cause for Australia.
Waqar admitted it was a relief to finally beat Australia with tomorrow’s second Twenty20 preceding a two-Test series later this month.
“It was a long wait,” he said. “It means a huge amount. We have some real youngsters in the side and even guys sitting on the bench are very young, so it is very pleasing.
“Any win is important and gives you this high. We have another game tomorrow and if we can win again tomorrow then the momentum can shift to us.”
Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, echoed Waqar’s praise of Akmal, adding: “He played well, didn’t he?
"He's a very clean striker of the ball. He batted really well today. The ground is not that big and he hit a couple of big sixes downwind.
"He's played really well the last couple of times against us so hopefully we can get a few more wickets earlier and get him in when the ball is newer.”
Defeat is likely to keep the focus on Clarke’s leadership of the Twenty20 team after he failed once more with the bat in the shortest format.
Pakistan have been forced to schedule the series on neutral turf because of security concerns at home, particularly in the wake of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore last March.
They have since ‘hosted’ Australia, New Zealand and England at neutral venues in the United Arab Emirates.
While those matches have been played to sparse crowds, the Pakistanis enjoyed parochial support from a crowd of around 10,000 at Edgbaston - vuvuzelas included - and Waqar revealed his team had been slightly taken aback.
“I was not expecting this much support,” he said. “It was good to have such support - it was handy.
“It’s a shame we are not playing in our own country but still happy that we have got the support here. People are behind us and supported us all the way.”