Amir has endured triumph and tragedy, glory and humiliation at HQ. Taha Hashim takes us through an incredible journey.
When Mohammad Amir strides out of the Long Room to play for London Spirit in the coming days, maybe, just maybe, he’ll pause for reflection.
Maybe the mind will wander back to June 2009, when a skinny 17-year-old boy is entrusted with bowling the first over of a World T20 final at Lord’s. At the other end is Tillakaratne Dilshan, a man who has reigned supreme in this tournament. Not only is Dilshan the leading run-scorer in the whole thing, but he’s also been busy parading an extraordinary shot, one that lifts the ball over the keeper’s head – the Dilscoop is having its moment.
But Amir greets the talismanic Sri Lankan with a ball that skips off the middle of the pitch and shoots past the ear. Right then, who’s this kid? Three dot balls follow, two of them closing in on 90mph, and then comes the final punch: Dilshan lofts the ball high and into the hands of short fine leg, and Amir has kicked off Pakistan’s most momentous white-ball win since ’92.
Or maybe our protagonist will think of the light and darkness – pitch-black, godawful darkness – that follows in the summer of 2010. In July of that year, Amir returns to St John’s Wood for his first Test match in England, where Australia are the opposition. As ever, chaos dances in the air of Pakistani cricket: after a disastrous tour of Australia in the winter, Shahid Afridi is named Test captain after a four-year absence from the format. Here for a good time, not a long time, the eccentric all-rounder quits the Test game immediately after a 150-run defeat.
Amidst all that drama is the allure of the new Akram, one who takes Shane Watson’s lunch money on the opening morning: one ball moves away from the right-hander, one moves back in, and the working-over is complete when the arms are shouldered to an inswinger.
Amir’s reputation grows over the summer and culminates in another trip to Lord’s in late August. In the fourth and final Test of the series against England, a wide smile is present as he delivers a spell of four wickets for no runs, with Cook, Pietersen, Collingwood and Morgan all sent back. The Honours Board calls for his name, the Wisden Almanack is all set to make him a Cricketer of the Year and he’s the youngest man to reach the landmark of 50 Test wickets. Greatness is there for the taking – but Amir oversteps the line. Two deliberate no-balls is all it takes to secure a five-year ban from the game and a six-month sentence in a young offenders’ institution in Dorset. A wondrous talent disappears from our gaze.
So maybe he’ll look back on the comeback instead. In July 2016, Amir returns to Test cricket, and does so at Lord’s. Under the leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq Pakistan have risen from the abyss of the spot-fixing scandal and the inspirational captain leads from the front with a first-innings century, saluting his comrades as he celebrates the moment. Yasir Shah takes 10 in the match, but the match-ending wicket has to be taken by Amir. Full and right through Jake Ball – the boy who lost everything takes Pakistan to their first Test win at Lord’s since 1996. Two years later, Mohammad Abbas is in control of the slope when he takes eight wickets in a nine-wicket win, but Amir can’t hide in the background when he walks through the Grace Gates – he takes 4-36 in England’s second innings.
Has any cricketer formed a more enthralling relationship with one ground? This is where Amir won a World Cup, where he told us he was going to dominate for years to come, where his world came crashing down, and where he came back to life. Now, aged 29, and disgruntled with those running the Pakistan set-up, it’s The Hundred that’s led to his return. Maybe, just maybe, there’s still more to come.
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