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Is Amir back?
Pakistan in West Indies

Is Amir back?

Upright wrist. A swift action. Ferociously teasing lengths. This defined Mohammad Amir before his ban from international cricket; he had ripped apart the best batting line-ups; bamboozled the greatest batsmen; and climbed the ladder of success so rapidly that once Ramiz Raja rated him as a better bowler than Wasim Akram.

The claim may seem hollow now. But back then, when he shredded the Australian batting line-up at Headingly it sounded true. He picked up seven wickets at the cost of 15 runs in a match that ended an ignominious streak.

When Amir first appeared on the scene in the 2009 World T20, he was one of the many fast-bowlers in Pakistan’s assembly line. By the end of the tournament, he had grabbed everyone’s attention. By the same time next year, he was ripping apart Australia and a few months later, he had got himself banned. He stayed out of the game for five-and-a-half-years.

In January 2016, he returned. There was hostility, criticism, and anger amongst a minority, including the writer. The majority welcomed him back with the open arms. He played white-ball cricket at the apex level initially. The wrist was still upright, the action was as smooth as ever, but the sizzling lateral movement had vanished. There weren’t many mesmerizing spells like before, save the one against India during the 2016 World T20. His supporters said the white ball doesn’t swing that much. They said the conditions haven’t been ideal.

 Amir removes the off-stump of Hetmyer  - AFP

Amir removes the off-stump of Hetmyer - AFP

Then came the ‘real comeback’. The one at the Lord’s against England in Test cricket. 10 days before, Amir had bowled a scintillating opening spell against Somerset, picking three wickets. The deliveries, as lethal as they could be, left the watchers in awe. Bowled away from the stumps, they dipped into the left-handers before tailing away. Sometimes, a ball moved both ways.

But that viciousness was gone by the time he set foot at Lord’s, the very venue where he had played his last Test. He did not extract any prodigious movement despite bowling with the Dukes balls. It stayed that way throughout the tour. It stretched further for a year. There were a few remarkable spells here and there, but it had gotten to a point where his place in the side for the Windies Test tour was questioned. He averaged above 40 since that Lord’s contest, after all. But his teammates, who had simply refused to pluck catches off his bowling, had a big role to play in it.

On April 21, things changed! The wrist was still upright, as it should be. The run-up still smooth. But this time, it was all coming together. With his first ball, his natural swing came into play. He moved the ball into the right-handers. His first wicket was a masterpiece: removing Shimron Hetmyer with an in-dipper when the left-hander expected the ball to swing away, as it had been to Kieran Powell an over ago Shai Hope’s wicket was even better. The ball zipped into him off the surface. Then the danger-man Powell edged one to the second slip. The ball’s movement was once again being attributed to the Pakistan pacers. The fans had longed to watch the opening bowlers move the ball. They saw it on the first day of the first Test against the West Indies.

But, will Amir continue to be this lethal? Or, is it just a one-time thing? Has the Amir we once knew finally returned from the wilderness? That is for time to answer. @ahsannagi