Imagine how Mohammad Amir would have fared now had it not been for his five-year spot-fixing in 2010.
An extraordinary exponent of left-arm seam bowling, he delighted the greats, including the likes of Imran Khan and Wasim Akram, when he burst onto the scene in 2009.
Just a year into international cricket, Amir helped Pakistan beat Australia at Leeds in their neutral-venue series in 2010, taking seven wickets. A Test before at Lord’s, Wasim, himself one of the greatest left-arm fast bowlers to play cricket, described Amir better than he himself was at 18.
That same season, Amir was man of the series despite Pakistan losing 3-1 against England in a series which will be best remembered for being one of Pakistan cricket’s worst moments. Amir along with Salman Butt, the then Pakistan captain, and Mohammad Asif, the team’s senior paceman, were caught in a spot-fixing scandal.
The three players served bans of varying degree, but the one most affected at the moment seems to be Amir. Five years is long enough to blunt the best of talents. It’s quite evident that his time away has damaged his bowling, his rhythm, his ability to take wickets and perhaps his career too.
When Amir returned to the side, there was notable change. On the limited-overs tour to New Zealand, Waqar Younis, the then coach, admitted Amir needs time to get back to his best.
“We always knew that it’s going to take some time for Amir to return to his best,” Waqar had said. “There’s still a lot of pressure for Amir, playing international cricket. We’re trying to ease him into it – not expecting blasts from him. As long as he gets to his peak, when the time is right, hopefully he’ll deliver the goods for Pakistan.”
That hasn’t happened in consistency. He has been at his lethal best but only in patches. That Asia Cup spell against India was a reminder of his talent where he rocked India. He then failed to get a wicket in crucial World Twenty20 games against New Zealand and Australia. Once again that lack of wicket-taking edge, which had propelled him to the top, was missing.
Amir was nearly at his best in helpful English conditions. But his 12 wickets in four Tests did not suggest how well he had bowled as some crucial catches were dropped off his bowling.
That trend continued on the tour of New Zealand and Australia where only at Brisbane Amir looked on top of his game with a four-wicket haul. He followed that up with a six-wicket haul against the Windies in Kingston – his only five-for since his returning. In the series against Sri Lanka, Amir went wicketless in 39 overs in the first Test in Abu Dhabi and got only one in Dubai before suffering a shin injury.
Since his comeback, Amir has 44 wickets in 16 Tests as compared to 51 in 14 Test before the ban. Though the difference is not as stark as expected, Wasim believes he lacked that bite and that special something which was his hallmark.
“Whatever I have seen of Amir in the last two Tests, I think he lacked that touch,” said Wasim. “There is nothing special, no swing and it as though he is not using the crease.
“You can’t be unlucky all the time so at this stage of his career I think he will have to show his true guts and fight with his mind and body.”
There was a suggestion that Amir’s lack of swing was down to his right shoulder collapsing and a poor head position. He went 64.3 overs — from Dominica Test in May to Dubai — without a wicket. Perhaps, Pakistan’s over-reliance on the paceman has something to do with his drained numbers.
Amir has bowled the second most number of overs across all formats, only behind Kagiso Rabada. Amir has bowled 821.3 overs in 50 games, while the South African paceman has bowled 863.4 in 56 games.
Azhar Mahmood, Pakistan’s bowling coach, has another explanation for why Amir could be losing his touch.
“Unfortunately, when you play all three formats and too much one-day cricket, your length is shorter than fuller. You see guys who only play Test cricket like Vernon Philander they bowl fuller but those who play all three have shorter length. Amir played county cricket so I wanted him to bowl fuller and when he does that he is more threatening,” reasoned Mahmood.
In a way, this injury could not have come at a better time. The time away gives Amir the time to reflect on his strengths and weaknesses, and should that process help, we might just catch another glimpse of the real Amir.