DHAKA-Umar Akmal has often been criticised, not necessarily without justification, for not maximising his enormous talent, and for throwing starts away across formats. At the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium on Sunday, he went some distance towards silencing his critics, even if only temporarily, with a memorable knock against Australia that kept Pakistan’s challenge going in the ICC World Twenty20 2014.

Umar walked in with Pakistan in trouble at 25 for 2 and added 96 with Kamran Akmal, his older brother, before being dismissed in the final over for 94. Umar ended up six shy of becoming Pakistan’s first centurion in a T20 International, but his knock helped Pakistan register its first win in Group 2 of the Super 10s, by 16 runs.

“It is the best knock of my career because the kind of stress our team was under after losing the first match, for us it was important to win this match,” said Umar, the Man of the Match, after shading Glenn Maxwell’s 33-ball 74 in a losing cause. “The kind of free hand the management gave me to go out and express my abilities, I am thankful to them for that. I played my natural game and I was rewarded with a good score. We are taking it match to match. Our aim is to win every match we play. We lost the first match but our morale was kept high by the management.”

Umar said he enjoyed batting with his sibling. “We were batting together after a long time, but we are used to playing together for Pakistan, we have played for a long time. More than anything else, the team management impressed upon me the need to express myself. They said ‘whatever talent you have, go and show it to the world’. The seniors told me, ‘you can play your best today and you can be the Man of the Match’. I took that confidence with me to the middle. I played positively. There was a bit of pressure but I took the pressure on myself and continued to play my shots, which was why I was successful,” he said.

Except for the final result, the match was eerily similar to semifinal of the World T20 in 2010 in St Lucia, when Pakistan made 191 for 6 with the Akmal brothers both hitting half-centuries, and Australia won in the final over after a late assault by Mike Hussey on Saeed Ajmal. “We didn’t think about it at all because our bowling unit is very good and we always felt we would win the match. No doubt, Maxwell hit the ball well but at the end of the day, our bowlers did very well. The way they came back at the end, full credit to the bowlers,” said Umar. “As a batting unit, we deserve a little bit of praise but for us to stay in the tournament, it is the bowlers who did the job. My best wishes to the bowling, I have no doubt our bowling is the best.”

Bilawal Bhatti conceded 30 runs in his first over but with Australia needing 23 off the final over, Mohammad Hafeez turned again to the youngster. “I don’t think there was any pressure on him, either in his first over or in his last,” said Umar. “It was no doubt a big match for him, it was only his second or third match but the seniors and the captain gave him confidence. Umar Gul bowled a brilliant second last over, and he also shared his experiences with Bilawal, which helped him bowl really well in the last over.”