The year was 2010. The venue: Lord’s. Having taken a six-wicket haul in the first innings, Mohammad Amir was on top of the world. Since his debut in the World T20 the previous year, the young bowler’s stock had risen rapidly. But it was his performance in Test cricket during the English summer that mesmerised one and all, compelling them to foresee greatness in his future as long as he continued to play.
Unfortunately, he did not.
During that very Lord’s Test, his world came crashing down. Instead of greatness, the name Mohammad Amir was now synonymous with “spot fixing”. The cricketing world was outraged, but it also felt betrayed. However, out of the three Pakistan players implicated in spot fixing, Amir was the only one they were prepared to forgive. His journey back into international cricket was not an easy one, but he was extremely fortunate to be given a second chance.
Since his comeback, though, he hasn’t been the same bowler he was before his ban. There have been glimpses of that greatness on a few occasions though — none more so than in the Champions Trophy final against India. Such performances reminded the Pakistani fans what Amir was capable of. They also instilled hope that he would eventually be back to his best.
A big number of cricket aficionados took fast bowler Mohammad Amir’s return to international cricket with a pinch of salt. Now his decision to cut down on Test cricket has raised a few more questions. Does he have a convincing response?
While the fans hoped, rumours began to circulate that Amir was considering retirement from Test cricket, and would focus on limited overs cricket to prolong his career. Amir denied the rumours initially but, as the old adage goes, ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’. While he did not quit Test cricket completely, he did make an announcement that he had agreed with the head coach Mickey Arthur to manage his workload by reducing the number of Test matches.
With the amount of cricket that is being played these days, a cricketer’s body, especially a fast bowler’s, can take a lot of toll. So, Amir’s concern seems plausible since he has bowled the most international overs for a Pakistani fast bowler in all three formats after making his comeback and is ranked seventh among fast bowlers worldwide. What compels one to question his decision though is the fact that a bowler of his calibre is willing to cut back on Test cricket in order to prolong his career in limited overs cricket.
In fact, he has stated that he might eventually end his career with a total tally of 50 Test matches. To say that this is perplexing would be an understatement. At 26 he has already played 30 Tests. If he plans to play for another 10 years, he will be playing, on average, only two Tests a year to get to 50.
The most challenging of the three, Test cricket is still considered the premier format. A player’s skills, endurance, character and fitness are truly reflected while playing Test cricket. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that all the greats of the game have made their name playing Test cricket. It is such a shame for a bowler like Amir to not aim for such greatness. His decision has come as a shock to all his fans expecting big things from him.
However before drawing any conclusions it is necessary to assess the extent of the workload that Amir has undertaken over the last two years. This can be done by comparing his numbers with his contemporaries from the time he made his comeback.
In order to assess the burden on Amir and his need to cut back on Tests, his stats have been compared with the pace bowlers who have bowled the most overs across the three formats since January 15, 2016 — the date Amir resumed his international career (see Table 1). The two stats that stand out are the percentage of overs bowled by him in Tests and in T20Is. During this period, nearly 68 percent of the overs he bowled have been in Test cricket, which is approximately six percent below the average. Whereas in T20Is he has bowled the most overs among these bowlers — nearly six per cent above average. This shows that Amir has played a lot more T20Is when compared to the rest of the bowlers on this list.
Of the six bowlers above Amir on this list, four no longer represent their countries in T20Is and are focusing more on Tests and ODIs. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood last played T20Is for Australia in 2016. Kagiso Rabada, who is still only 22, also played his last T20I for South Africa in 2016, when he was just 20 years of age. Stuart Broad on the other hand has not only quit T20Is but ODIs as well. Since February 2016, he has only played Test cricket for England. Like Broad, James Anderson too only plays Test cricket now, whereas Chris Woakes last played a T20I for England in 2015. In short, six bowlers out of the 10 who have bowled the most overs during this period are managing their workload by cutting down on T20Is completely.
This shows that the best bowlers from countries like England, Australia and South Africa still consider Test cricket as the best format and are willing to forego T20Is to focus on the longer versions of the game.
Rumours began to circulate that Amir was considering retirement from Test cricket, and would focus on limited overs cricket to prolong his career. Amir denied the rumours initially but, as the old adage goes ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’.
Since his return, Amir too has regularly featured in Test cricket thus far. He has played 16 Test matches for Pakistan during this period while missing only one. In these matches, he has bowled 591.5 overs in 29 innings, giving him an average of 20.40 overs per inning (see Table 2). If we only consider the Test match numbers of the same set of bowlers from this period, their average of overs bowled per Test inning comes to 19.33. Amir’s average is only slightly higher than this. This shows that the number of overs Amir bowls per Test innings is at par with the other pace bowlers who have bowled the most during this time.
Since Pakistan does not play as many Test matches in a year as England, Australia and South Africa, Amir’s workload in this format is comparatively lower than the bowlers from these countries. Pakistan also plays considerably fewer ODIs than the other teams. During the period under consideration Pakistan played 34 ODIs, which was lower than England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India. In terms of T20Is, though, Pakistan has been quite busy. They played 31 matches, which is second only to India.
While Amir has been bowling regularly for Pakistan in all three formats over the last two years, his workload in international cricket does not seem to indicate that he is overburdened, especially when compared with his contemporaries. However, since the lifting of his ban in 2015, Amir has been playing a lot of T20s in the various T20 leagues throughout the cricketing world (see Table 3). If we compare the number of matches he has played with the same set of bowlers (since January 2015), it will reveal that he has played 63 games, which is more than anyone else on the list. Tim Southee comes next with only 38 games. In short, Amir has played a staggering 43 games more than the average which is a meagre 19.3.
This shows that, in addition to international matches, Amir has played a lot of T20s in the past two years which has considerably increased his workload. However, he is not the only Pakistan player to do so. Most Pakistan players contracted by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) play in these global T20 leagues throughout the year. In addition to gaining valuable experience, financial benefits are a big factor since the remuneration of Pakistani players from international matches is considerably lower when compared with most of the other cricketing nations.
Therefore, it is all but natural for one to question the motives behind Mohammad Amir’s decision. To say it is based on the financial incentives of T20s would be purely speculative at this moment. The World Cup may be a big factor as he has stated himself, but only time will tell what prompted this decision. For now let us hope that this time Amir chooses country over everything else.
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 15th, 2018