When Pakistan will take on England in the first of the three-match T20I series in Manchester today, fast bowler Mohammad Amir and cricket fans all over the world will be going down memory lane, exactly 10 years back to August 28, 2010.
The cricketing world was rocked by a fierce spot-fixing scandal on that day - a British newspaper sting caught Amir bowling no-balls to order - at the Home of Cricket - and an 18-year-old’s career, which was hailed to be the “next best thing”, came crashing down. Along with a teenaged Mohammad Amir, his new ball partner, Mohammad Asif, and then Pakistan captain Salman Butt were all banned from cricket for five years and handed jail sentences.
Amir, being the youngest of the trio, had to serve the shortest jail term of six months, and was granted a return to international cricket in 2016. In between were lost five years as well as an extremely crucial development phase for a raw, young and talented fast bowler.
“It was such a pity losing those years. He was on the cusp of becoming the next best thing and to lose five years cost him dearly...Amir is one of the best I have worked with,” former Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur told AFP.
Indeed, the loss in time left many to ponder how Mohammad Amir’s career could have shaped up.
Pakistan cricket statistician Mazher Arshad has calculated that Amir would have scalped 250 wickets in both Tests and ODIs if the spot-fixing and the ensuing ban didn’t happen.
“Amir missed 43 Tests, 137 ODIs and 57 T20 internationals in those five years. Projection-wise he would have reached 250 in both Tests and ODIs and, who knows maybe, won Pakistan the World Cup in 2011,” Arshad said.
Mohammad Amir had burst onto the scene like a bolt from the blue.
Having played ‘tape-ball’ cricket in a village called Changa Bangyaal – a two hours' drive from Islamabad – Amir’s talent was spotted by legendary fast bowler Wasim Akram at the Asif Bajwa academy in Rawalpindi. Interestingly, there was quite a resemblance between the two left-armers and parallels were started being drawn instantly by pundits.
Mohammad Amir broke into the national team after picking up 55 wickets in the 2008 first-class season. His pace, incisive swing and wicket-taking ability made him an instant hit as he picked up 6 wickets in 7 matches as part of Pakistan’s T20 World Cup-winning squad in 2009.
Former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja said that a young Mohammad Amir was oozing talent.
“When I first saw him I found him crafty and skilful. He was a quick learner and very skilful and had he not lost those five years he would have been a star in all formats,” added Raja.
Mohammad Amir was an overnight success
Mohammad Amir’s arrival on the Test arena, too, left the whole world marvelling. A five-fer at MCG in 2009 followed by a seven-wicket haul next year in Leeds – both against Australia – helped Amir cement his place in the Pakistan team in all three formats of the game.
Amir, who drew flak from all quarters after he announced his retirement from Tests last year, sounds regretful about missing those five years of cricket. He, however, helped Pakistan win the 2017 Champions Trophy with a match-winning burst of 3 for 16 in the final against India.
“A cricketer’s life is very short, especially a fast bowler’s career and a five-year gap did a lot of damage to my body. My body just sort of shut down. When I returned in 2016, I played regularly and that took a toll on my body and that’s why I retired from Test cricket,” Mohammad Amir revealed in a YouTube interview last month.
In fact, Mohammad Amir made a dream start even to that infamous series against England. He picked up19 wickets in four Tests until all the promise, hope and expectations came to a screeching halt at Lord’s.
Today marks 10 years to that dark day in Mohammad Amir’s life. As much as there is regret, there are also lessons learnt and motivation gained to erase that blemish.
The 28-year-old Amir would be looking to use all of it when he will run in with the new ball in Manchester, looking to regain the long-lost rhythm in a country which saw many of his highs, but also a career-changing low.
(Inputs from Deccan Herald)