In matches among the sides currently in England for the World Cup, one bowler had picked only four wickets since the highs of the 2017 Champions Trophy. Those wickets had come at a price of 92.5 runs and after bowling 105 balls – that’s close an entire T20 innings – at an economy rate of 5.28 runs per over. Would you pick this bowler for the World Cup which is going to be played in England?
If you are among the 10 teams not named Pakistan and maybe Sri Lanka, the answer is no. But this is Pakistan and if the bowler in question is Mohammad Amir, who won your country the biggest ODI tournament since the 1992 World Cup just two years ago in the same country, then the stats go out for a toss and you are forced to pick on faith and belief that he will come good in England.
Since the 2017 Champions Trophy final, in games against the other sides at the World Cup (only includes games where Amir has played), Amir has been dismal if we take his stats and break them down into figures for 10 overs. He picks 0.6 wickets for 52.8 runs while the other bowlers in their 10 overs pick 1.11 wickets for 56 runs, slightly on the expensive side but they pick a wicket at least and in 40 non Amir overs of bowling it converts to 4.44 wickets for 225 runs. All in all Pakistani bowlers have not been doing well overall, be it Amir or be it the rest.
So what gives? How is Amir in England and has he justified his inclusion?
To kick things off, Amir wasn’t included in the original World Cup squad Pakistan released ahead of the England series. He was in the 17-member squad which would play against England but not in the World Cup squad. He was not in the 15 but he was in the plans of the Pakistan selectors, he just needed to prove himself in the England series and if he did well he would make it to the 15-man squad for the World Cup. But he played just one game – where he did not bowl because the game was rained out – before an illness ensured that he missed the entire series. But poor form of Pakistan’s premier bowlers like Junaid Khan, Faheem Ashraf, coupled with inexperience of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohd Hasnain meant that Amir still managed to be selected in the squad for the World Cup.
But picking him for the World Cup wasn’t completely surprising if you look at how he has performed in the country. Since his comeback, Amir has been the second most economical Pakistani bowler in England only behind Rumman Raees who played a solitary game in the country.
Pakistan bowlers in England since CWC15
The figure above illustrates why Amir was important for Pakistan in England. In his 10 over spell he picks the same number of wickets as the average Pakistani bowler, but he concedes 12.7 (approximately 13 runs) fewer than the average bowler. Which in an ODI can be the difference between a win or a loss.
Picking Amir for the World Cup squad given his poor performances for Pakistan since their last ODI visit in the country would always raise questions. But his record in England was always sound enough to take that risk more so when the other bowlers have not been delivering. Was that faith in Amir justified?
After Pakistan’s three completed game in the tournament, the faith the selectors have shown in Mohammad Amir has been totally justified at the end of the Pakistan vs Australia match with the bowler on top of the wicket table with 10 wickets.
In the embarrassing loss against West Indies, Amir was the only bright spot with his three wickets. In the win against England he started off economically before coming back later in the game and picking the crucial wickets of Jos Buttler who was threatening to take the game away from Pakistan and then Jofra Archer.
Against Australia, Amir combined both his economical bowling and his wicket taking ability to pick his maiden 5-for for Pakistan in the ODI format. He used his experience of the conditions – he has been playing county cricket in England as well – to make life tough for the Australian batsmen, hitting the good length consistently with subtle variations in pace and line.
Amir was picked for the World Cup without any real performances behind him, but after being given a chance to show that he can still deliver at the big stage, he grabbed that opportunity with both hands and has been the pick of the bowlers for Pakistan at the World Cup so far.
This piece was originally published on Scroll.in and has been reproduced with permission.