Pakistan gear for World Cup amid possible 2015 return for Mohammad Amir
Pakistani cricket supporters are gearing up for a World Cup in New Zealand and Australia with low expectations for a team currently ranked 7th in the ODI rankings, but recent developments in England involving outcast Mohammad Amir seem to be providing an intriguing shadow on proceedings.
News that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are to review the 2010 spot-fixing cases involving Amir, Salman Butt and Mohammed Asif, has allowed fans to think what could have been for Amir, had he not been involved in the ugly episode that stopped short a very promising career.
The CPS’ intervention recently has occurred after Mazher Mahmood, the journalist dubbed the ‘Fake Sheikh’ and who was the prime participant in the News of the World sting four years ago, has faced extreme scrutiny over evidence provided by him in light of cases that have collapsed.
In relation to Amir, this could mean – at a stretch – that his conviction could be overturned (this piece from Michael Atherton in 2012 is worth a read) but it’s a sad indictment on the current Pakistan team, gearing ahead for a World Cup, that news of a player who was jailed for spot-fixing, is garnering more than a passing thought in the mind span of supporters.
Pakistan, under the leadership of Imran Khan, won the World Cup in 1992 and subtle touches have been made to try and recreate that spirit ahead of the team’s return Down Under, such as the similar kit design to the one worn nearly 23 years ago.
But in practical terms, things seem bleak. Current captain Misbah ul Haq and leading player Shahid Afridi have both announced their retirements from the format after the tournament; Younis Khan has been drafted in after a spell out owing to his outstanding Test form; the same batting frailties exist and injuries to their bowlers leaves a concern that they may lack that bowling firepower.
On the latter point, their prime wicket-taking bowler Saeed Ajmal, has taken the wise step of ruling himself out of the World Cup to make sure his career isn’t shredded to ruins owing to issues with his bowling action.
What are the positives, you ask? Well, some promising displays by Haris Sohail, Ahmed Shehzad and spinner Yasir Shah of late, give hope that they could stamp their mark into the team during the tournament starting next month. And knowing the ups and downs of Pakistan cricket, it could well be that the seniors and newer players combine to provide a respectable finish in the World Cup.
Winning is not completely out of the equation knowing Pakistan cricket but extremely far-fetched compared to the squad depths and quality flooding out of teams such as South Africa, Australia and the promise of New Zealand.
Pakistan’s only ‘success’ in the tournament maybe to end their barren run against their arch-rivals India, whom they have yet to beat in a World Cup match in five previous attempts.
At the end of the tournament, Afridi and Misbah will swan off into the sunset (latter won’t be missed due to his captaincy weaknesses in this format) and thus begin another revamp of the team.
Amir’s ban by the International Cricket Council is due to finish this year, when the 22-year-old could even make his return against the team whom he was bowling to when the infamous no-balls occurred: England.
Whether the Pakistan Cricket Board will throw him in back into international cricket into that spotlight seems uncertain and would probably be advised not to.
For his incredible talent and potential, Amir should not be thrown back into international cricket without a period of re-acclimatising through domestic cricket, where he can continue his rehabilitation with local players.
Reports say Amir has continued cricket training, through difficult psychological periods, and if he shows that he can reclaim the form that put him in place to break all records, then a return to the team seems inevitable given that no-one has really taken his place since he left.
Before all that and the subsequent CPS review into the spot-fixing cases, there’s a World Cup to compete and despite previous glory, it will seem a hard – impossible even – ask for the current Pakistan team to lift that trophy for a second time.?