Pakistan produces fast-bowlers like a machine that never runs dry. It churns out seamers after seamers who have come out and made an impact in the cricketing world. Even among those fast bowlers, the 17-year-old Mohammad Amir was a true prodigy. The left-arm pacer bowling at 145 clicks, swinging the ball into the right-handers, was a sight to savour.
Amir made legendary batsmen like Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson and Alastair Cook dance to his tunes. The cricketing world was in a fervour. They had a young boy who could potentially be the next Wasim Akram, or someone bigger.
Amir's rise to fame and wealth was prodigious. But the higher you rise, the deeper the fall. The fate of Amir was no different. One no-ball changed his life forever. He turned from the blessed protagonist to the accursed villain in the space of a single day.
The reverberations spread throughout the cricketing world. They had lost a hero. Though Mohammad Amir returned after an exile of five years and played international cricket for almost half a decade, he was never the same. As he bid farewell to the international game at the young age of 28, it was disappointment more than pain that gripped everyone.
At this juncture, we take a ride through his cricketing years and celebrate a career for what it would've been if not for that fateful no-ball.
Mohammad Amir’ career – the story of what would have been!
Rise of the sensation
Mohammad Amir was picked in the Pakistan national side at the young age of 17 years after playing just over six months of first-class cricket. He is first call-up was to the T20 squad for the ICC World T20 2009. Pakistan lifted their maiden T20 title and Amir made an instant mark playing all the matches and picking up 6 wickets at an economy of just over 7.
Amir’s opening over in the final of the World Cup against Tillakaratne Dilshan set the tone for the whole match. He bowled with pace and venom making the batsman hop around and finally dismissed him off the fifth ball.
The selection to the ODI and Test teams came soon after when the Pakistan side travelled to Sri Lanka. He picked up 6 wickets in three Test matches and 9 scalps from five ODIs in conditions which were difficult for fast bowlers.
The real potential of Mohammad Amir was unveiled when the Pakistan team made its way to the southern hemisphere. He picked up the first five-wicket haul of his career at the Melbourne Cricket Ground as Pakistan defeated Australia for the first time in 15 years. The left-arme pacer's victims included Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke.
Then England hosted the Test series between Pakistan and Australia in the summer of 2010. The long-haired teenager rummaged into the mighty Australian batting line-up and picked up 11 wickets in the two Test matches at 21.45 apiece. The career-graph was steadily rising and the cricketing world was witnessing something special.
Fall of the prodigy
Pakistan’s tour of England, 2010 - fourth Test at Lord’s. Mohammad Amir was opening the bowling for the visitors. Third ball into the first over, he bowled a massive no-ball, over-stepping by almost half-a-meter. This moment triggered the fall of the young prodigy from the heights of reverence to the depths of disgrace.
It was later revealed that the no-ball was part of a spot-fixing operation. He had delivered the no-ball at the insinuation of bookies. Amir initially protested his innocence on the allegations, but later pleaded guilty to the charges.
That eventful tour was his best with the ball, probably of his entire career. Mohammad Amir picked up 19 wickets at an average of 18.37 including two five-wicket hauls in the four-match series. But the cricket world had to wait for another six years to see him bowl again.
ICC suspended Mohammad Amir from all forms of cricket for a period of five years. He was also imprisoned for three months in the United Kingdom under corruption charges. The teenager had enjoyed the best and suffered the worst within his first two years of international cricket.
Mohammad Amir's comeback to the game
Mohammad Amir made his comeback to the international arena in January 2016, playing in the T20I series against New Zealand. However, the return back to the game was not easy for him, either in cricketing perspective or from his mental perspective.
We have all seen recently how difficult it was for the players to resume playing after a gap of six months from competitive cricket. Imagine how it would have been for Amir with no competitive games for five years. Five years out of the game is too long a period for even a player who was at the peak of his form and prowess.
The crowd in England made matters worse when Mohammad Amir travelled there with the Pakistan team soon after his return. The fans at Old Trafford booed him and chanted “Woooaah.. No ball!” reminding his eventful journey to the nation six years back.
Amir was still a force to reckon with, but he had lost a lot of venom. He still had pace and swing, but the extent to which the ball moved and zipped through had diminished.
The diminished self of Mohammad Amir
The career-trend of Mohammad Amir was on the rise when it came to an abrupt suspension in 2010. He had averaged 21.45 and 18.37 in the last two Test series that he had played against the dominant Australian and English sides. The 51 wickets from 14 matches had come at an overall average of 28.92 until that point.
The numbers during the five years of international cricket after Amir's comeback narrate the story of the diminished self of Mohammad Amir who had returned to the arena. He picked up 68 wickets from 22 Test matches which came at 31.5 runs apiece.
Amir’s average in ODIs dropped from an impressive 24 in his initial 15 matches to 32.14 in the years after his comeback. This included a phase when it seemed like he could hardly dismiss a batsman. Amir completed the year 2018 with just 3 wickets from ten ODIs.
The more favoured T20 format also wasn’t as good after the seamer's return to the game. He had averaged 19.87 in the initial 18 T20I matches, but that dropped to 22.38 during the next 32 T20Is played between 2016 and 2020.
Positives after the comeback
There were a couple of purple patches in Mohammad Amir’s comeback trail as well, which came during two ICC world events. Amir was instrumental in Pakistan’s ICC Champions Trophy victory of 2017.
Pakistan had met arch-rivals India in the final of the Champions Trophy. Amir broke the back of the Indian batting line-up by dismissing the top-three batsmen, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli early in the chase. The three batsmen had scored almost three-quarters in India’s runs in the tournament leading up to the final. After their cheap dismissal, India's middle-order capitulated handing a victory of 180 runs to Pakistan. Amir finished with figures of 3/16 in 6 overs.
Mohammad Amir had a good time with the ball during the ICC World Cup 2019 as well. The 28-year-old took the first ODI five-wicket haul of his career against Australia during the World Cup. He picked up a total of 17 wickets in that World Cup, topping the chart wicket-takers for Pakistan.
The final farewell
The left-arm pacer had announced his retirement from the longer format of the game in 2019 citing his intention to focus on the limited-overs career. This decision had drawn flak from various corners as the cricketing fraternity knew Mohammad Amir’s talent and what he has to offer to the game in the coming years.
The last international appearance of Mohammad Amir came against England in August 2020. He played two matches in the series and went wicketless in both. Amir was later snubbed from the 35-member Pakistan squad which travelled to New Zealand.
Amir had been vocal in his criticism about the team management and the Pakistan Cricket Board for some time now. And on the back of this exclusion, he finally called time on his career at the ripe age of 28 years.
Looking back at the career
Mohammad Amir has finished his international career which spanned 11 years including five years of ban. The career figures would read 119 wickets from 36 Test matches, 81 wickets from 61 ODIs and 59 wickets from 68 T20Is.
Years down the line, someone would run through those numbers as that of a pretty average bowler. Little would they know that it was a career more of what would have been, than what the numbers tell us!
Amir was a pace bowler who made you sit and watch his spells. He could make the ball talk and make the batsmen dance to his tunes. He was the heir to Pakistan’s famous fast bowling throne. But at the end of it all, Amir lost years of international cricket and the game lost one of its greatest prodigies quite abruptly.Published 21 Dec 2020, 12:38 IST