Raja is gone and time is on his side: Why Mohammad Amir could make a sensational Pakistan return
It’s been just over two years since Mohammad Amir retired from international cricket, but now there is noise swelling around a possible, dramatic return to the fold. Calum Trenaman unpicks the situation.
In December 2020, at the age of 28, Mohammad Amir announced his decision to make himself unavailable for Pakistan selection. A career that had scaled the highest highs and the lowest lows, from playing a starring role in a World Cup win as a teenager to serving jail time for spot-fixing to a triumphant return in another global tournament win, had taken another sensational turn. Amir claimed he had been “mentally tortured” by team management. A troubled story seemed to have come to an end.
However, there is now reason to believe a return could be possible.
In 2020, Amir said he was “taunted all the time by being told I don’t want to play for my country”. “Every two months, someone says something against me,” he said. “Sometimes the bowling coach [Waqar Younis] says ‘Amir ditched us,’ sometimes I’m told my workload is unsatisfactory. Enough is enough.”
Enough meant ending his time as a Pakistan cricketer.
However, in July 2022, Amir indicated he may be open to returning to play for his country if Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ramiz Raja was no longer in charge.
“Everyone knows Ramiz Raja’s views about me so I don’t think this is the right time to consider taking back retirement,” he said. “When Ramiz Raja leaves PCB, I will make an announcement about my availability if needed.”
Well, Amir has his wish. Raja is gone. And furthermore, two people that he trusts have been appointed to key positions at the PCB.
When he indicated he would no longer represent Pakistan in 2020, Amir bemoaned being “tortured by being told the PCB invested a lot in [him]”. He went on to say it was only two people that invested a lot in him: Najam Sethi and Shahid Afridi.
And since Raja’s removal as PCB chair, as if directed by Amir himself, former chair Sethi has been reappointed to the role with Afridi taking over for a time as interim chief selector.
He has the people he trusts in charge, so what next? Sethi has left the door open for Amir.
“Mohammad Amir can play international cricket for Pakistan if he takes his retirement back,” Sethi said, going on to criticise the previous regime’s treatment of the 30-year-old. “Mohammad Amir thinks he is not dealt fairly by the previous regime of PCB, including selection committee and chairman Ramiz Raja.
“Ramiz Raja thinks whoever has committed corruption in cricket should never be allowed to play for Pakistan again. This is not my view! I believe someone who has paid the penalty should be allowed to make a comeback for Pakistan.”
One of his former Pakistan teammates has hinted that he can see Amir returning. Speaking with Samaa News about Pakistan’s bowling options, Wahab Riaz said: “We may see Mohammad Amir coming back to play for Pakistan once again. We have Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf but the other three spots are still available. Bowlers like Hasan [Ali], [Shahnawaz] Dahani, Naseem [Shah], [Muhammad] Wasim are fighting for it. Amir may come back, too.”
However, Wahab hints at a potential obstacle: even if Amir returns to the fold, he may not be first-choice. Naseem is coming of age, Wasmi Jr. adds value with the bat, Shaheen is an all-format stat, and Rauf is one of the world’s fastest. More evidence may yet be needed that Amir is worthy of selection.
So, what next? Well, Amir has some form on his side; he is currently performing well in the Bangladesh Premier League for Sylhet Strikers. He has nine wickets in seven matches at an average of 18.55 and a miserly economy of 5.96 – though there are other Pakistan players performing just as well in the competition. But this is no anomaly. Since the start of 2021, he’s been trotting all over the globe and performing on every stage, taking 57 wickets at an average of 22.56 and an economy of 7.23 in T20 cricket in that time.
Last summer he even turned out in first-class cricket for Gloucestershire, despite not having played the with the red ball in three years, producing a decent though not earth-shattering return of six wickets at an average of 28.33.
If he is serious about a return, it might not come at the drop of a hat though.
Former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq indicated his support for Amir’s return to the international stage, but on the condition of domestic form.
“Mohammad Amir is a good player, no doubt,” Inzamam told reporters. “If his fitness is good and if he wants to play and does well at domestic, then he should be considered for national selection for sure.”
There is also the question of the team environment, and whether a player who attracts headlines whatever he does will disrupt a generally positive atmosphere. Is the cricketer worth the controversy?
The ball is in Amir’s court. He makes a great living travelling and playing T20 cricket across the world, but the pull of international cricket may be too much to resist, especially now with Raja gone and a regime he can trust in charge. There is work to do to earn a recall. But he’s still only 30 years old. James Anderson has just made the ICC Test Team of 2022 at the age of 40. Perhaps Amir is just getting started.