What makes an enduringly great batsman is a puzzle that may leave the very best of cricket brains struggling for answers. Even experts as masterly as Sir Don Bradman and as gifted as the great Garfield Sobers, failed to provide soul convincing formulas. At first, I wondered that a batsman, armed with a strong faultless technique, that not only guards his wicket but also persistently smacks the red round leather, punishingly teasing through the infield, is by far the only ingredient any great batsman must possess. But that’s just basic. You may be endowed with all the jaw dropping strokes in the book; you may have wrists that display extreme elasticity and you may have eyes like a hawk, but if you are stripped of a judicious nervous system and that insatiable appetite for consistent run making, then perhaps you’d end up making a bad exhibition of your batting talent. Umar Akmal springs to my mind yet again. I have written about him in the past on a number of platforms, and for some odd reason, have chosen to dedicate my writing to him once more. My first impression of him was quite obvious: a young boy, sunny and cheery at times, touched with a stroke of genius, and one who was unquestionably filled to the brim with raw batting talent. I vividly recount falling prey to one of young Akmal’s earlier stunts on a cricket pitch. It almost felt like a military coup, when his bat — which was heavy for a player his size, heaved like a scimitar and took us average Ravian boys to the cleaners. It was some time back in the year 2003 when I had the privilege of captaining an acceptably competitive Government College Cricket Team. It was in one of our routine weekend games when I almost came close to losing that privilege, suffering at the hands of a young Akmal, whose size at the time suggested that he wasn’t even in the flush of his adolescence. On the strength of a few reputation destroying innings, he maneuvered in the national Under-19s, Akmal deservingly barged into the Pakistani senior eleven. The transition to the senior side hardly seemed like a new experience for him, as he would take similar liberties with bowlers at the highest level, stroking away with a touch of Caribbean flamboyance He batted with the imposing air of someone who had at least faced a full over in test cricket: nimble on his feet, he had an answer to every little deviation a cricket ball has to offer, milking runs all-round the park and at a rate of knots notched up a breathtaking half century. We all came out absolutely flabbergasted, with our shoulders down and our cheeks pink from the humiliation. But we knew, with as much certainty as possible, that Pakistan has found another supremely gifted stroke player, almost in the same league as Inzamam or Yousuf. Few years down the road, and on the strength of a few reputation destroying innings he maneuvered in the national Under-19s, Akmal deservingly barged into the Pakistani senior eleven. The transition to the senior side hardly seemed like a new experience for him, as he would take similar liberties with bowlers at the highest level, stroking away with a touch of Caribbean flamboyance, mostly flippant and occasionally courteous. He was quick to hit his straps, as he clubbed a brilliant 129 off just 160 deliveries in his test debut against a hostile New Zealand bowling line up. The century in the first innings was followed by a fifty in the second, and a string of other noteworthy batting scores in the second and the third test, finishing off the series as the highest run getter with an average of 57.14. Looking at the ease with which Akmal decimated decent seam bowling, Martin Crowe was quick to share his prophecy: ‘You are looking at the next great Pakistani batsman.’ The prophecy certainly held true for a few seasons, as by late 2011, Akmal had become the mainstay of an otherwise wobbly middle order, particularly in the shorter formats of the game. And then, bit by bit, when everything in the garden was lovely, Akmal’s lucky stars began to wane once his bat was no longer connecting with the leather like it used to. Was the Umar Akmal phenomenon that we formerly witnessed nothing but beginners luck? Was the great Martin Crowe totally out of his depth with his forecasts? Were all those masterly drives that Akmal muscled through the covers, or those deft glances of his hips, or those open eyed nudges kissed down to the third man, a lucky fluke? Was cricket genuinely his first love? I certainly do not have a clue. Perhaps Akmal was temperamentally flawed. Perhaps raw talent alone does not convert into dependable sportsmanship. Perhaps, he was never the class act we all thought him to be. Sadly, whether we blame Akmal’s failure on his own reluctance to mature and up his game or on the cricket board’s mishandling of the boy’s wayward career; it is certainly painful to watch a potentially useful cricketing talent fall on stony ground. The writer is a British Pakistani writer and a Cambridge Alumnus. His first book Let There Be Justice: The Political Journey of Imran Khan was published in England last year. He can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, January 31st 2018.