“3 runs outs and a few iffy shots from Pakistan. Never seen that before”
“They must think we are all stupid”
— Nabeel Hashmi (@HashmeNabeel) November 18, 2015
As recently as November 2015, when an all-too-familiar Pakistani collapse was unravelling in the third ODI against England at Sharjah, Michael Vaughan’s thinly veiled comments exposed his clear lack of past experience following Pakistani sides of the past, apart from rankling suspicion based on the few times he had. Vaughan was hearing hoofbeats, and instantly, he imagined it was the zebra he’d seen before.
Eight months before their first tour back to England since that fated summer of 2010, with no certainty about any of the three sinners returning, Waqar Younis, the coach both times, found himself defending the sea change between the two sides. ““There was nothing wrong with that game. You win some games, you lose some. That is the way it is. I have no doubts about my boys.”
This was the same man who had asked Mohammad Amir at Lord’s after that no-ball, “What the hell is going on?”, before the events of subsequent weeks brought it all to light.
July 2016. The same hallowed Lord’s turf. Pakistan’s first Test in England in six years. Amir’s first Test since shaming himself in the same setting. Spot-fixer then, given a second chance to prove himself.
“He’s a good kid now, he’s a mature cricketer and he can prove to everyone that he’s a good bowler.”
Like the father in that Biblical parable defending the prodigal son on his return, Misbah ul-Haq stood up for Mohammad Amir, still young at 25, set for what promises to be a long, memorable second innings in cricket. Amir bowled his heart out, repeatedly let down by his mates on the field, before taking matters into his own hands to shatter Alastair Cook’s stumps on Day 2.
Regardless, in what would, in all certainty, prove to be the defining moment of his tour, Amir picked up the final wicket in a 75 run win at Lord’s, to set off push-ups from the entire squad, directed by Younis Khan.
The dressing room rose as one, Steve Rixon had his arms aloft, Mickey Arthur was grinning from ear to ear, and the likes of Azhar and Hafeez were among the first to embrace Amir on picking up that wicket.
25 years is a rather young age to have experienced such extremes in emotion, feelings of guilt and redemption, and spookily enough, at the same setting in foreign conditions. This time, though, the scene could not have been any more different. In the hours following the win, Misbah spoke of all his players “doing it for the flag”, for the army men at their boot camps, not earning much yet willing to give their lives for the nation. It was about doing it for Pakistan, he said, in the only way they could give a 100%. To paraphrase Steve Waugh, one of Test cricket’s great captains, Misbah stood for something so his men didn’t fall for everything.
12 Test wickets at 42.4, with a wicket every 81 balls.4 ODI wickets at 48.5, going at 5.4 runs an over.
No 5-fers. Nothing on the Lord’s Honours Board this time.
Amir’s will be looked upon as yet another average fast bowler’s tour of England from most statistical viewpoints, in addition to two anomalous achievements that will go into the record books – the first ever ODI 50 by a number 11, and 18 Tests without taking a catch, the longest such streak in Test history.
And yet, that Sidhuism on mini-skirts fails miserably when tested with these statistics, for there’s so much more to Amir’s tour that they fail to reveal, starting from the day Somerset Cricket’s social media channels erupted in the face of his hostile morning spell of fast-bowling. Pronounced, late swing, a trait only the most gifted left-armers are blessed with, to take Marcus Trescothick’s edge en route to the keeper. Taunton has been Trescothick’s backyard for nearly 25 seasons now, the setting for a majority of his 24,000-odd runs, and his wicket has come at a premium this season, having accumulated nearly 1000 runs against attacks from across the shires. Amir’s outswinger paid no heed to any of this, and left the veteran with nary a clue about its destination until he fished at it indecisively.
— Somerset Cricket ? (@SomersetCCC) July 4, 2016
Peter Trego, yet another 13000 run veteran on the circuit, was made to look like a rank newbie, with this one that crashed into his stumps. Oh, the possibilities that lay ahead, we wondered.
— Somerset Cricket ? (@SomersetCCC) July 4, 2016
Amir bowled the second highest number of overs in the four Test series, at 162.3, only behind Yasir Shah. He was his captain’s turn-to bowler for large parts, and despite not returning with a bucketload of wickets, was a consistent threat in a memorable series for Pakistan. His pace, swing, and as we’d see later in the ODI series, variations to outfox set batsmen, were reassurance that not much of that precocious natural talent on view in 2010 had deserted him in the interim years.
All of this, of course, is in addition to even greater all-round possibilities that potentially lay ahead, if only he desires so. His batting, first that valuable 39 in a stand of 97 with Younis Khan at The Oval to set up the series-levelling victory, followed by the late-innings flourish in Nottingham to get to 50 off just 22 balls, are but a reconfirmation of the batting prowess visible during his teens. If Arthur and the management devote some time into this aspect Amir could well end up becoming a bowling all-rounder, a magician with the ball who could contribute late order runs for his side. Just like, you know, a certain left-arm great he idolises.