Umar Akmal might have been out of the national side for a while, but he stormed back into the headlines on Wednesday with an explosive press conference in Lahore, with the target of his ire no less than head coach Mickey Arthur. Akmal alleged that Arthur used abusive language against him and barred him from using the National Cricket Academy, saying he had to 'earn that right'.
Akmal told reporters that he was 'insulted' by the head coach and deprived of the opportunity to "improve myself". The PCB instantly took note of his outburst, issuing a show-cause notice demanding he respond within a fortnight.
Akmal was originally named in the national high performance camp organised by the NCA, but pulled out citing a knee injury. According to him, he had informed the relevant officials - including head coach Mushtaq Ahmed - and excused himself for five weeks, during which he intended to undergo rehabilitation with his private trainer in England. Despite returning earlier than expected, the camp had already concluded.
While Akmal wished to rejoin the daily training sessions at the NCA with the national coaches, the staff said they were presently working with contracted players to prepare them ahead of their domestic and international assignments.
"I had gone to England for rehabilitation of my knee injury," Akmal said. "After I recovered, I went to the NCA to start working on my fitness and training. But the coaching staff doesn't want to work with me at all. When I asked why all those international coaches didn't want to work with me, they responded that they wanted to prioritise working with players who had central contracts. I said that I too am an international Pakistan cricketer, and if my fitness is lacking - and I admit that along the way my fitness has been found wanting - they should help me.
"I then went to talk to the chief selector (Inzamam), but he referred me to Mickey Arthur. Arthur took me back to Inzi bhai's room and started scolding me and using bad language in front of Inzi bhai, which I found demeaning and insulting.
"It's not even my fault, and I find it painful that anyone should be allowed to swear at me. I accept my fitness isn't up to the mark, and I am trying to work on it, and I asked to be allowed a trainer to help me. But Mickey said I shouldn't even have come to the NCA, and should be playing club cricket instead."
Arthur confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that he did exchange words with Akmal the other day, and informed him that as he was no more a contracted player, he needed to earn back the right to use the facility at the national level.
"I did tell him [Akmal] a few home truths and said he was always looking for excuses instead of looking at himself," Arthur said. "I also told him that he had to earn the right to use our support staff because he is not a contracted cricketer. He can't just walk in here and demand what he wants."
Arthur has, over the last year of his contract, made improving Pakistan's fitness standards a central focus of his coaching tenure. On various occasions, he has been candid, and at times censorious, when airing his views about the fitness of a number of Pakistan players, including Akmal. The PCB is understood to have thrown its support behind his fitness campaign, and given him free hand to axe players who did not meet his fitness standards.
This latest controversy began when Akmal was sent back home from England after failing two fitness tests leading up to the Champions Trophy, despite initially being included in the squad. Akmal had previously been dropped from a tour of the West Indies in April for similar reasons. He was excluded from that squad after he was the only player, out of 31, to fail the fitness test during a camp held at the NCA in March.
"He [Arthur] shouldn't be swearing at me like that, it is like he's abusing all of Pakistan," Akmal said. "You look at any cricket match, and you'll see he's swearing at one player or the other. I want to reveal this to the public and to all my fans. I request the chairman [Najam Sethi] to take this issue very seriously. When the head coach is allowed to swear at someone whenever they wish, that is unacceptable. As a Pakistani, I could not stomach it.
"I want to tell them that even when I try to do something good, I am prevented from doing so. When I take pictures with my fans, they, too, tell me to work on my fitness, and I feel they are right. But now I want to rectify this, everything is being snatched away from me. Why do academies exist? They exist to correct our mistakes. Now you should tell me what to do; I am a Pakistan player."
The coaching staff, however, has a different perspective about Akmal. He was recently offered yet another chance after being named in the high performance camp before the central contracts were announced. But he opted to skip it, claiming he had a knee injury since the Australia tour. "I didn't tell the NCA about the injury because I was on tour when it occurred. I told the team doctor, who said straightaway it would need an operation. I believed all I needed was rehab, and asked him to advise me about exercises that I could do, and said I'd be willing to do them.
"I then spent my own money to go to England and deal with my injury. I told everyone (at the camp before leaving for England). I emailed Dr Suhail and told Mushtaq Ahmed (the NCA head coach). I have proof of this. I had a knee injury, and I simply went for rehabilitation. I told them I would be ready to do whatever they wanted me to do."
With Arthur's position stronger than it has arguably been at any point in his stint as Pakistan coach in the wake of the side's Champions Trophy triumph, it is difficult to presently see how Akmal could come out on top in this exchange. However, with the flamboyant cricketer never far from the news, only a fool would believe this to be the last chapter in Akmal's cricketing tale.