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Muhammad Amir and His 7-Year Journey

Muhammad Amir and His 7-Year Journey

It was a dreadful day when news of fixing allegations on Pakistani cricketers broke out during the Lord’s test in 2010. Although the entire fixing scandal being based on a few no-balls was certainly unexpected, it took an even longer time to believe that Muhammad Amir, then an 18 year old fast bowling prodigy, could be involved.

As events of the trial unfolded, realization set in that Pakistan’s brightest young star was going away. The only question left was for how long, or was it was going to be forever? Many were left heartbroken. Frustration at Muhammad Amir aside, a lot of anger was directed at the poor leadership of Salman Butt and Muhammad Asif. I despaired at how they could sabotage not only themselves, but a young boy who had barely completed a year of international cricket.

Amir’s first interview to Michael Atherton after being released from jail was some consolation. One can only guess, but the sorrow felt genuine. Over the next 5 years, I closely followed Muhammad Amir’s potential return and was thrilled to learn about Muhammad Amir wreaking havoc for Omar Associates in Grade II cricket, famously taking a wicket in his first over back. As the ban period kept coming closer to an end, and as the videos of Amir’s wickets in the QeA Trophy matches and his exploits in BPL 2015 got viral, voices demanding a lifetime ban for Amir got louder, including former and current Pakistani cricketers.

Considering Amir’s humble background and a society where elders demand automatic reverence and authority, it is believable that an 18 year old boy was talked/bullied into fixing by players he looked up to. Amir made extremely poor choices and had paid for them.

 Nasim Akhtar clutches prayer beads and a photograph of her son, Amir

Nasim Akhtar clutches prayer beads and a photograph of her son, Amir

Although Amir made his international comeback in a T20 series against New Zealand and took a hat trick in the death overs of a PSL match next month, my real focus was on the Asia Cup match versus India. People wondered if it was still the Amir of old (if you can ever use that term for a teenager). As Pakistan made all of 84 runs on match day, Amir took 3 wickets in a surreal two overs. This, after two valid LBW appeals had already been turned down. For a few minutes my heart soared with the mad idea that 84 was defendable. The loss was largely forgotten over the euphoria of Amir’s triumphant return. It seemed he was even better than he was 6 years ago.

That euphoria ended soon as Pakistan exited early followed by a poor WT20 in India. Still, his test return was looming with the England tour coming up. Besides, it was not very alarming seeing Amir getting hit around in a format which makes even Dale Steyn seem mortal.

The romanticism in Amir’s return to test cricket in the very city in which it so shamefully ended was hard to miss. And for a while, that romanticism lived. Although visibly nervous in the 1st innings at Lords, Amir broke the stumps to seal victory in front of a rapturous crowd. As he soared at Lord’s, more than a few journalists christened it as his redemption.

Not a lot happened for Amir after that. In that match, in that series and the next few months of cricket across the world, murmurs of discontent with Amir grew; that he was a shadow of his former self; that the Asia Cup madness was just a fluke. People even claimed he was taking his place for granted and should be dropped. I personally felt he was getting there one series at a time. Yes he was a different bowler from 6 years ago; the jump on delivery wasn’t as pronounced; he wasn’t targeting the stumps as much as he did before; that prodigious swing was most obviously missing. Although he had become much more dangerous with his natural angle to right-handers, overall he seemed to be bowling within himself. I still felt he was the best pacer in every series Pakistan played including the England tests where Sohail Khan bagged two fivers.

It is hard to remember a bad spell from Amir. Too many batsmen beaten repeatedly; too many edges fallen short; too many edges in vacant slips the captain had just removed; too many catches dropped. By November 2016, there were 12 dropped catches off Amir’s bowling in tests. The side joke was that these dropped catches were Amir’s pit stop at Karma Station on the way to redemption. By the New Zealand tour Amir was dropping catches off his own bowling. As good as he looked, Amir’s defining comeback performance hadn’t yet been scripted.

Although Amir seemed to have found his mojo back in April where he was superb in West Indies (his 6/44 in the 1st test deserves a separate piece altogether), he scripted his moment of immortality in the Champions Trophy final against India. Possibly fueled by missing out on the semis due to back spasms and talks of Rumman Raees playing in the final ahead of him, he razed the Indian top order to the ground in a scintillating spell that dismissed Rohit Sharma, Kohli (twice in two balls), and Dhawan, who were 3 of the tournament’s top 5 run scorers, and had scored 74% of India’s runs. With India chasing 339, Amir had virtually ended the contest in the 11th over. This spell was a triumphant celebration of his irresistible talent and skill which brought the entire cricketverse to his feet. In an ICC trophy final, against arch rivals who had tormented Pakistan in ICC tournaments, and against the world’s best. Much like the 17 year old bowling a wicket maiden in the 1st over of the WT20 Final in 2009 to Tillakaratne Dilshan, the man of the tournament.

 Rohit, Kohli, Dhawan scored 222 runs per match coming into the final. Amir got them in 23 balls for 14 runs

Rohit, Kohli, Dhawan scored 222 runs per match coming into the final. Amir got them in 23 balls for 14 runs

It is possible Amir may not reach the greatness he seemed destined for in 2010. However, he is on that path. On the 18th of June, 2017, in a matter of 6 overs, at a time and place of his choosing, for me and for the rest of the world, Amir emphatically sealed his redemption beyond discourse.