Long silky hair blowing past his face, run up so smooth that there is not a single hint of hindrance and the ability to pitch the ball in the exact same spot, but make it move different ways at will. Who can ever forget the sight of an adolescent Mohammad Amir producing spells that reminded us of the legendary Wasim Akram?
Although the Test wickets are only a 100, the journey behind them is more captivating than one could imagine.
The only time you would hear an Australian commentator sing praises like that for a fast bowler is when either the bowler is Australian or he is unarguably one of the finest talents the world has ever seen.
Amir wasn’t only picking wickets for Pakistan; he was on his way to becoming a world sensation.
What happened next is no secret. Therefore, I don’t want to recall the dreaded incident in great detail. No-ball, allegations, bans and tears – these are all the buzz words that are enough to bring back the memories of Amir getting himself in the line of fire and getting banned from international cricket for five years, after admitting his involvement in spot-fixing.
On July 13, 2016, Amir marked his return to Test cricket in the same place where he left us all in tears. His return was in a rush; the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) seemed to have woven a special path to get Amir back in the side. The rules were set differently for this young man, simply because he was that good. The desperation to have him back was at its peak.
Ever since Amir’s return, he has been a shadow of his former self. The name “Amir” has returned in Pakistan’s lineup but the 18-year-old kid that could rip through the best batting line-ups in the world, has not.
Barring a few glimpses of brilliance, Amir has struggled to make a mark that one would expect from the absolute best. His latest outing in the Test match against Ireland reflects where he currently stands. An injury prone Amir collected five wickets on a pitch tailor-made for fast bowling whereas his counterpart Mohammad Abbas collected nine. Amir was good enough but maybe not the best anymore.
More often than not, the Amir today is a bowler that contains runs and waits for a wicket in return. As opposed to Amir of the past that couldn’t care less about leaking runs because he was in the middle of bowling spells that made the best in the business look ordinary.
Some say that five years away from cricket is enough to make one lose the art that he had mastered his entire life. Others are more technical and blame Amir for bowling too wide off the stumps, hence not able to get the in-swingers going. Some even believe that bowlers hunt in packs hence, without his partner-in-crime Mohammad Asif, Amir has struggled to pick early wickets because of lack of pressure created from the other end.
I am not entirely sure what caused Amir to lose some of his magic, therefore you may go with any school of thought that floats your boat. What I can say with more certainty is that Amir has been playing consistently in the side more so because of his reputation from the past rather than his current performances.
The same Amir that picked up a five-wicket haul at Melbourne against Australia in the first Test of 2009-2010 tour was wicket-less at Melbourne after his return in the tour of 2016 in the second Test match. A single example is by no means a barometer to explain the difference in Amir’s performance; it was merely a demonstration of the change in times for Amir. A further look at stats could reveal a fuller picture.
Amir bagged three five-wicket hauls in Test matches prior to his ban, all three of which were against England and Australia, while he has only managed one since his return against a struggling West Indian lineup. In terms of overall Test wickets, Amir had 51 wickets in 14 Test matches before the ban. Since his return, he has played more Test matches and garnered even less wickets. He currently stands at 49 wickets from 17 Test matches since his return.
Although Amir hasn’t completely forgotten how to pick a wicket after returning to cricket, the stats do reveal that he hasn’t exactly been lethal either. I must mention, however, absolute sitters dropped off his bowling specifically made it seem like God wanted Amir to work twice as hard after his return.
The spell in the final of Champions Trophy showed what Amir could do once he is on song. When it mattered the most, he brought the mighty Indian top order to its knees but the question remains: where is this Amir lost for the rest of the year?