Mohammad Amir: Not any less an enigma than Pakistan
Pakistan are full of exhilarating talent you say? Mohammad Amir is the same. Pakistan will perform when they are least expected to? Amir is the same. Pakistan will frustrate their longing fans by hitting the deepest lows? Oh, it's getting too predictable.
Amir has hit some unimaginable lows in his fluctuating career. Unfortunately, those lows haven't been restricted to just on-field issues. Inevitably, any discussion about Amir will sway into the spot-fixing scandal in 2010 that he was a part of along with Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif. However, when one starts to think that only off-field problems could stand in the way of Amir becoming one of the world's best bowlers, his form starts to dip. Throughout the last two years, Amir's performances meant that each match felt like an extra year added to his exploits in the Champions Trophy final. It was just a chapter from a distant past.
Many have questioned the basis for his continued presence in the team for the fact that wickets completely had dried up. Since the 2017 Champions Trophy final, Amir had just picked up 5 wickets from 14 matches at an average of 92.60.
Time was running out and Pakistan had to select a squad for both the England tour and also the all-important World Cup. The selectors seemingly lacked belief in Amir with him being pushed down the pecking order.
Amir was left out of the World Cup but somehow coach Mickey Arthur backed him and handed a wildcard. The not-anymore wonderboy got into the two additional spots for the England tour. But even then, nothing was guaranteed that inclusion was a lucky opportunity. Usman Shinwari would have felt hard done by. Usman Shinwari bowls like a lionheart and more importantly he picked up wickets, Amir couldn't. Shinwari had stats to back him up too.
Stats since Champions trophy final-
Hasan Ali- 35 wickets in 23 matches
Usman Shinwari- 28 wickets in 15 matches
Shaheen Shah Afridi- 19 wickets in 10 matches
Junaid Khan- 14 wickets in 12 matches
On top of that, a new kid on the block, Mohammad Hasnain, had risen into prominence after an excellent Pakistan Super League season. He can bowl fast, Amir couldn't. He excited Pakistanis, Amir couldn't do it anymore. It seemed like Amir lacked mojo, it seemed like his heart wasn't in the game anymore. His fitness looked down and he wasn't able to give his best.
However, he couldn't do this, especially after getting an incredibly lucky second chance to play international cricket. Not many get this chance. But something was amiss. The Amir who looked so energized and motivated in the Bangladesh Premier League (this was incidentally his return to top-flight cricket) in 2015 was only able to make cameo appearances. Those cameos came in the Asia Cup T20 in 2016, Jamaica test in 2017, Champions Trophy final etc.
So, it was now time for the England tour. Amir got picked in the playing 11 for the first ODI, but rain arrived to create an anti-climax. Okay, there were four games to play and there was nothing to worry. However, Amir got chicken-pox and was ruled out of the series. Meanwhile, his Pakistan fast bowling peers were digging their own grave. The England batting line-up was absolutely ruthless on some placid tracks. It felt like Junaid Khan and Faheem Ashraf literally kept the spots warm for two senior campaigners. Those two were Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz. They replaced Junaid and Ashraf as Pakistan's selectors rejigged the World Cup squad.
Suddenly, this looked like a fairytale for Mohammad Amir without even playing a game. But on close introspection, it became clear that this wasn't any, this was just normal for Pakistan. There was obvious criticism and it couldn't be faulted given his numbers. Pakistan were taking a gamble based on experience.
Some questioned whether Pakistan had given up on the World Cup. On the other hand, Amir's supporters pointed out his incredible economy rate (4.58 per over) and big-match temperament. Still, all this felt like conjecture and an act of hanging on to the past. In the end though, the only thing that would matter is whether Amir could recapture his best in that latest comeback
"It was like Amir was one minute down, next minute up," just like how Nasser Hussain described Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy final. Amir might have missed his third consecutive World Cup during his international career. However, some scenarios are just meant to be different and Amir found some luck as his third try turned out to be a charm.
Fast forward to now, the decision to bring back not just Mohammad Amir but even Wahab Riaz looks like a masterstroke. Those two who were brought back based on experience have outdone the more promising youngsters in the three games that Pakistan have played so far. But interestingly, Pakistan have only won one out of 4 games (against Sri Lanka was washed out).
Amir though has come out as a shining light. His fifer against Australia was a masterclass. The Taunton pitch did help but when the other Pakistan fast bowlers were bowling poor line and lengths with the new ball, Amir was ringing rounds around the Australian batsmen. However, Amir didn't get his due reward as wickets eluded him just like it did for the past two years. Still, there was one more twist in Australia's inning. This was Australia's turn to do a Pakistan. Australia collapsed as Mohammad Amir continued his fantastic day and ended up with his first ever ODI five-wicket haul.
In the chase, Pakistan stayed true to their nature with several twists and turns. Babar Azam looked like a million dollars but then he threw it away. A collapse from Pakistan ensued. Just when it looked like the match was over, Hasan Ali and Wahab Riaz played mad cameos but still Pakistan lost their way yet again. Every time Pakistan got up, they fell down again. In the end it felt like, Pakistan lost but Amir won.
Meanwhile, It wasn't just Pakistan fans who were happy with Amir's performance. Even fans across the border were delighted with his fifer. After all, it looks like talent doesn't divide any country.
Will Amir continue this form through the World Cup? Fortunately or unfortunately, it is anybody's guess. If he continues his form and helps Pakistan complete an unlikely triumph, it will just be yet another remarkable chapter in a country which has seen extremes of his life. Pakistan fans have been pointing out the fact that the team also lost their fourth game in the victorious 1992 World Cup campaign as the basis for a comeback in the ongoing tournament. While these things fall under superstitions and assumptions, one thing is for sure. Both Amir and Pakistan will keep all the cricket fans on their toes. After all, Amir is as much an enigma as Pakistan.