Few fast bowlers in Pakistan’s cricket have been so talked up and talked down in the course of a single career. On 18 June 2017, Muhammad Amir produced one of the greatest spells of fast bowling. In the final of the Champions Trophy, he dismantled arguably one of the best top orders single-handedly in his five overs burst, helping Pakistan to a comprehensive win over arch-rivals India.
Fast forward to today with the ODI World Cup starting in almost a month's time, Amir finds himself in a peculiar scenario. There is a myriad of criticism on his place in the squad: he is playing more because of his past reputation than present performances, and his bowling has lost much of its potency and bite.
Since his return in 2016 after serving the five-year ban, he has picked up 35 wickets in as many ODIs; not the ideal statistics for a bowler who is supposed to be the best talent in the country. Since the Champions Trophy final in 2017, numbers are even worse with him taking only 5 scalps in 14 matches.
Mohammad Amir's ODI numbers in recent years paint a sorry picture ©Cricingif
Since his comeback, Amir has been a ghost of his former self. Yes, there have been some sparks of brilliance here and there but nothing as compared to what he achieved a decade ago in his teenage days. Some of the pundits blame his lack of bowling in the domestic circuit as the cause of this degradation. Others point out technical issues with his wrist position and bowling too far away from the stumps which are barring him to bring the ball in.
The Test format also paints a sorry picture for Amir. His current Test tally is 119 wickets in 33 test at an average of 30.6. In UAE, Pakistan’s adopted home, he has featured in four Tests, picking up only seven wickets at 56.42. Since his return from the ban, he has picked up only one five-wicket haul.
After a dismal performance in the Asia Cup in September last year, Amir was dropped for the home tours against Australia and New Zealand. He was asked to go back to the domestic and work on his pace and swing. Amir made a comeback for the South Africa tour. He showed promise with the red ball by picking up 12 wickets in three Tests but his pace was a concern throughout the tour. The bowler who used to touch 145 kph mark in his teenage days was bowling around 130 kph.
Mickey Arthur in an interview ahead of the home season last year said: "It's not just up to me which players play, that is the job of the selectors led by Inzi [chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq]. "But that could be a fair assessment of how we proceed with Amir. The tear-away quick Mohammad Amir who used to run in and rattle stumps and bowls at 145 is no more.
"But he gives us control and is skilful when the ball swings. So there might be a role change for Mohammad Amir going forward. We will certainly rotate our quicks through the UAE a lot. We won't kill them in our conditions; we'd look to rotate them through their time. We've got strength and depth in our bowling department, which gives us options. "Amir has lost the swing and zip in his ball but he still has been economical.”
In recent times Amir has become more of a bowler who contains run rather than picking up wickets. He has been economical in all three formats. England has offered flat pitches in the recent past with scores of 300 breached easily. He can come in handy with the old ball and his variations to restrict the batsmen in death overs.
Amir had a good outing in the 2019 season of Pakistan Super League with 13 wickets in 9 matches. Presence of the great Wasim Akram in Karachi’s dugout would have helped him in rectifying the flaws in bowling.
Although he was axed from the 15-member squad for the World Cup, Amir has been retained for the ODI series against England ahead of the marquee tournament. Considering the faith selectors and coaches have shown in Amir’s ability and his good record in England, he might just get the nod for a place in the World Cup squad if he performs well in England ODIs: squads can be altered till May 23.
Having missed the previous two World Cups due to his ban, Amir will be hoping to make it big in his first one. The precocity of his maiden tour to England is still in the minds of many and if that Amir turns up in a month’s time, not only he will silence his critics but Pakistan will have a fair chance of lifting the cup.