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Is the old Amir really back?

Is the old Amir really back?

It is now more than 18 months since Pakistan’s great fast bowling hope Mohammad Amir returned to international cricket following his five year ban for spot-fixing.

Given the length of Amir’s time out of the game it would be wrong to draw firm conclusions from his performances since his ban. However the 48 international matches played by Amir since then provide ample material to examine his return so far.

Analysing scorecard data shows that he has been less successful in all formats after his ban compared to before. According to the three primary bowling barometers of average, strike rate and economy rate Amir’s performance has declined on every measure other than economy rate in Tests.

Using data provided by the analytics company CricViz it is possible to analyse Amir’s bowling on a level that goes beyond the scorecard.

Ball-tracking data shows Amir’s average pace to be fractionally higher after his ban compared to before his ban. It also shows Amir to be bowling accurately more often than before his ban in all three formats. CricViz defines a ‘good’ line as 40cm outside off stump and a ‘good’ length as between six and eight metres from the batsman’s stumps. Although these fixed areas are not quite as appropriate in T20 they remain a good indication of a bowler’s ability to bowl with control.

What made Amir so dangerous before his ban was his ability to move the ball laterally in the air and off the pitch. Analysing ball-tracking data shows that aside from a fractional increase in swinging the ball in Test cricket, he is moving the slightly less in the air and off the pitch in all three formats.

Although this aggregate reduction is a concern for Amir, he is still swinging the ball considerably and that will make him a threat. However, more worrying will be the reduction in the number of balls he is swinging from left to right—into the right hander and away from the left hander—particularly in Test cricket, which suggests he may have lost some of the bite which made him so successful before his ban.

A crucial factor that cannot be ignored when assessing the performances of Amir since his ban is his misfortune with dropped catches - particularly in Test cricket. Analysing Fielding Collection data from CricViz shows Amir to have had 43% of catches dropped off his bowling in Test cricket since returning - well above the global average of 27%.

In conclusion, scorecard analysis suggests Amir’s performance since his return has dipped compared to before his ban. However he has been very unlucky, particularly in Test cricket.

Ball-tracking analysis shows Amir is bowling faster and more accurately than before his ban. However, although he is still swinging the ball significantly both ways—which is likely to bring him success—whether he can return to the levels of before his ban may well depend on if he can swing the ball from left to right as often as he did before - so far the signs suggest not.

Freddie Wilde works for the data analytics company CricViz.