Akmal, the hero

PAKISTAN was the deserving winner of the five-match ODI series against England, that followed the Tests. Inzamam-ul-Haq's men achieved a creditable 2-0 Test series triumph over the Englishmen and then scored a 3-2 win in the one-dayers, after clinching the series with a match to spare.

The ODI series re-emphasised the fact that Pakistan is a versatile side with several multi-skilled cricketers. This is a side with depth in batting and plenty of options in bowling. Pakistan is a team that can never really be counted out of a game.

There were plenty of heroes for Pakistan. None more than wicket-keeper batsman Kamran Akmal. He whipped up two centuries in the series; nobody else reached the three-figure mark in the series.

While Akmal remains an athletic, quick-thinking wicket-keeper, the think-tank has managed to make the maximum of his batting ability.

Akmal opened the innings with the solid Salman Butt in a striking right-left combination. A natural stroke-maker with a complete range of shots, Akmal notched up a brilliant 102, in the second ODI in Lahore and Pakistan, chasing 230, cantered home by seven wickets.

Akmal followed this up with a sparkling 109 in the third game in Karachi and Pakistan ran up an imposing 353 for six. The host was always going to nail the contest from that point.

The little cricketer kept with flair throughout. There has been a remarkable transformation in Akmal's career since his match-saving hundred in the Mohali Test last year. It is never easy replacing an established name like Moin Khan, behind and in front of the stumps, but Akmal's talent and temperament have seen him accomplish just that. His promotion up the order in the ODIs is a master-stroke by the team management.

Inzamam led the side well and produced a vital unbeaten 81 in the fourth ODI at Rawalpindi; Pakistan won the thriller by 13 runs to win the game. The rift between him and strike bowler Shoaib Akhtar appears to be a matter of the past and the fast bowler bowled with fire and heart in the series.

It was Akhtar's five for 54 that enabled Pakistan to level things up in the second ODI after England had grabbed the early lead at the same venue. Looking back, Akhtar's spell was critical for the host, which had to bounce back quickly. Akhtar was supported well by Rana Naved, who swung the ball at a lively pace.

Younis Khan had an indifferent series after scoring a half-century in the first game, but Mohammed Yousuf (formerly Yousuf Youhana) batted with purpose. All-rounders Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik and Abdul Razzaq added weight to the side and Pakistan looked a side that could be a distinct threat in the 2007 World Cup.

England has a job on hand ahead of the premier ODI competition in West Indies. The side that lost to Pakistan was without captain Michael Vaughan, kept out by fitness concerns — influential batsman Kevin Pietersen could play only in the first two ODIs — but England looked vulnerable in these conditions.

As expected, Andrew Flintoff contributed with the bat and the ball, but England missed Pietersen as the series entered its decisive second phase.

There were some positives for England. In Liam Plunkett, the side seems to have found someone who can bowl useful medium pace and chip in with the willow. Marcus Trescothick's lack of form hurt the side. After a well-made 94 in the first ODI, Andrew Strauss could not come up with a similar effort of substance.

Paceman James Andrerson made a welcome return to form in the final ODI, and the wristy Vikram Solanki showed flashes of brilliance, but England, clearly, has its work cut out in the days ahead. — A Special Correspondent

The scores Lahore, December 10

England 327 for four in 50 overs (Andrew Strauss 94, Kevin Pietersen 56, Andrew Flintoff 72 not out, Paul Collingwood 34 not out) bt Pakistan 285 in 46.5 overs (Salman Butt 67, Younis Khan 60, Mohammed Yousuf 59, Shoaib Malik 50, A. Flintoff three for 73, Liam Plunkett three for 51).

Lahore, December 12

England 230 in 48.4 overs (M. Prior 32, K. Pietersen 28, L. Plunkett 56, Vikram Solanki 39, Shoaib Akhtar five for 54) lost to Pakistan 231 for three in 44 overs (S. Butt 43, Kamran Akmal 102, M. Yousuf 28, Inzamam-ul-Haq 31).

Karachi, Dec. 15

Pakistan 353 for six in 50 overs (K. Akmal 109, M. Yousuf 68, Shahid Afridi 31, Inzamam 45, Abdul Razzaq 51) bt England 188 in 42 overs (A. Flintoff 36, I. Bell 37, S. Malik three for 29).

Rawalpindi, Dec. 19

Pakistan 210 in 47.2 overs (Inzamam 81 not out, Afridi 34) bt England 197 in 48.1 overs (A. Flintoff 40, I. Blackwell 29, Kabir Ali 39, Afridi three for 34).

Rawalpindi, December 21

England 206 for nine in 50 overs (A. Strauss 26, V. Solanki 49, A. Flintoff 39, P. Collingwood 33) bt Pakistan 200 for nine in 50 overs (Mohammed Yousuf 54, James Anderson four for 48, I. Blackwell three for 29).