The Amir quandary

August 2, 2020

Pakistan’s cricket team management seems to be in a confused state of mind about how to utilise the fast bowler’s skills

Mohammad Amir is lucky to have got an unexpected opportunity to play against England. The pacer has joined Pakistan cricket team in England. Initially he pulled out from the tour as the dates of his second child birth clashed with the tour, but the early birth of his child opened the doors for him.

The three Tests and three T20Is against England will all be played behind closed doors. Amir could be part of the first T20I against England that is scheduled for August 28 in Manchester.

Amir’s inclusion in the squad is a surprising decision as a bunch of fast bowlers are already there including Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Sohail Khan and Usman Shinwari.

Amir played his last T20I on November 8, 2019, against Australia at Perth. Amir has played 61 ODIs and 48 T20Is for Pakistan, taking 81 and 59 wickets, respectively.

Defending the decision to include Amir, Pakistan bowling coach Waqar Younis said that Amir was part of their white-ball cricket plans. “It is not about this series but also about future commitments,” he said.

But Waqar clarified that no player was indispensable for the team. “Despite the left-arm pacer being a big match player he is not an automatic choice. We want to utilise him if he is up to the mark. If he can win matches for Pakistan he will be part of the national side and his presence will increase the competition among the pace bowlers,” said the bowling coach.

Waqar admitted that he and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq were upset when Amir suddenly announced his retirement from Test cricket last year as both felt he was required on the tour to Australia. “But it is a blessing for us that we have so many pace bowlers to pick from,” he added.

Waqar rejected suggestions that it was difficult for a fast bowler to compete in all formats.

Amir was dropped after the first ODI against Australia last year as he failed to take any wicket, conceding 59 runs in nine overs. It was his seventh ODI in last 10 in which he went wicket-less.

In around two years since the Champions Trophy final against India in June 2017, Amir’s average has been over 92. In most matches he has not bowled his full quota of 10 overs.

Before the ban, Amir averaged 24.00 in ODIs. Since his comeback in 2016, he has averaged 39.17. In 36 ODIs since his return, he has conceded 1371 runs and taken just 35 wickets without a four-wicket haul.

It has been more than three years since Amir returned to international cricket.

Since January 2018, Amir has played 16 T20Is and taken 21 wickets. In nine ODIs in 2016, he took 12 wickets. Next year he played 12 matches and took 18 wickets, but in 2018 he took only three wickets in 10 appearances, averaging over 100. Last year, he took only two wickets in four ODIs, averaging 80.50.

Amir is still bowling at a high pace, but his ability to swing the ball in the air and off the pitch has been affected.

The reduction in the number of balls that Amir swings into the right hander and away from the left hander is a cause for concern. It shows he has lost some of the bite which made him so successful before the ban.

In the early days of his career, Amir was compared with legend Wasim Akram for his exceptional ability to swing the ball into, or away from, the batsmen. But the ban for five years for spot-fixing in 2010 badly damaged the career of one of the most promising cricketers.

Dropped catches on his bowling is one of the reasons for his low wicket tally. Wasim Akram says that Amir’s under-performance is due to his wrist position.

The continued selection of Amir in all formats has been much criticised. The Champions Trophy final performance has been used as a prime example of how his extraordinary skills have given Pakistan the advantage in times of need. But a quick look at his overall performance in ODIs paints a worrying picture.

Last year, he announced his retirement from Test cricket, saying he wanted to “concentrate on white ball cricket”.

Amir’s decision to leave Test cricket at the young age of 27 was widely criticised by former cricketers.

Within a month of Amir’s announcement, pacer Wahab Riaz also announced retirement from Test cricket.

Wasim and former fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar criticised the fast bowlers’ decision. Shoaib said that it was time for Amir to pay back to Pakistan after spot-fixing ban.

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The Amir quandary