He has class adorned with panache. Lethality backed by passion is his forte. The youngster was widely designated as the successor to the great Wasim Akram. And the man has risen to the top when the occasion demanded. Ask none other than iconic Virat Kohli who candidly regards the left-armer as the top gun in modern-day cricket. Mohammad Amir ever since his much-anticipated and controversy-laden return to international scene has been the thrust of Pakistan fast bowling.
The exceptional calibre of the paceman was never in doubt even before the 2010 spot-fixing scandal reared its ugly head. His reputation as an upright competitor was tainted but, unlike the other two culprits in the saga, Amir after admitting his guilt and showing remorse somehow received muted plaudits from across the cricketing world. Rediscovering the form at the top after five long years was a colossal challenge. But he did it and the dark period of repentance and isolation is now behind him.
Figures at times can be highly misleading. There has been no wickets galore for Amir after his return to international cricket early last year (44 wickets in 16 Tests at an average of 37.25; 30 wickets in 21 ODIs at 30.26; 15 wickets in 14 T20 Internationals at 24.33).
But, then again, this astute pace merchant is a big-game player. Wasn’t Kohli’s scalp worth 10 million dollars when Amir bamboozled him twice in two balls at the high-voltage Champions Trophy decider earlier this year? What about Tillakaratne Dilshan who was trapped by the same paceman on a short-pitched delivery in the opening over of the glitzy 2009 World T20 final at Lord’s? Rohit Sharma is a run-machine against many bowlers yet the prolific Indian opener has time and again proved to be a bunny in front of Amir. English crowd saw a rejuvenated Amir in the 2016 Test series during which the bowler kept on bothering the opponent batsmen but was unfortunately short on wickets due to dropped chances. All this is top shelf stuff.
Now this genuine pace bowler of the highest echelon is going to exhibit his skills at the much talked about T10 League starting in Sharjah later this month. Earning through profession is everybody’s fundamental right. However, one strongly reckons horses-for-courses is an adage that every rational individual should always be aware of.
Outstanding talent is precious and therefore should be employed for advanced tasks. Amir is a true high-flying fighter, an intelligent warrior.
Though the 25-year-old Amir has age on his side, yet there are a number of reasons for him to remain selective in picking the contests.
Firstly, he is the pace spearhead of Pakistan team, and there is nothing bigger than national duty. Pace bowling legends Fazal Mahmood, Imran Khan, Wasim and Waqar Younis and many other cricketers produced by the country were lauded for their glorious services to Pakistan cricket. Furthermore, Amir represents the country in all three formats which makes it tough for him to go out there and perform on every occasion. Injury and burnout are two major perils that are always lurking around, particularly for fast bowlers. One must not ignore that Dale Steyn, South Africa’s top speedster, had to remain out of action for over a year due to a shoulder injury late last year. Will an injury in the T10 League depriving Amir of top-level international cricket for say three to four months (or even more) be not hugely damaging for the bowler and Pakistan cricket?
Secondly, Tests and One-day Internationals (not even Twenty20 games, what to talk of T10 fixtures!) are termed as benchmarks by the game’s expert and critics. Outdoing batsmen in T10 games will not earn a pacer like Amir the grand and pure applause that he would receive in cut-throat five-day and 50-over competitions.
Furthermore, from the team’s point of view Amir, along with fast-rising Hasan Ali and Junaid Khan has formed quite a menacing pace bowling trio that can unnerve the best in business; they proved it in the Champions Trophy. Mohammad Abbas, Rumman Raees and Fahim Ashraf have shown they can also create ripples when summoned for duty. Now is the time to firm up this blend of pacers for meeting challenges ahead.
Therefore, the focus of these talented pacemen should be on strengthening their combination in order to keep their best for national duty.
Last but not the least, to add to Amir’s national duty workload there are international T20 leagues — above all Pakistan Super League. So, in contemporary world cricket all professional cricketers are required to keep a balance in what they opt for and Amir is no exception.
On the personal level, Amir is at a delicate stage of his international career. He has already lost five peak years due to the spot-fixing ban. The ambitious bowler whose is simply a magician with the new ball has himself said recently that he wants to “do something big in the 2019 World Cup”.
Big aims require big thoughts, and big thoughts need bigger plans backed by actions. Having missed the 2011 and 2015 World Cups due to spot-fixing ban, Amir needs to realise that the 2019 World Cup would be his first, and during which he would be in full bloom to mesmerise batsmen and try to repeat the feat Wasim proudly achieved for Pakistan back in 1992.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2017