When Mohammad Amir burst onto the international scene at the tender age of 17, pundits speculated that Pakistan has found its next Wasim Akram. Even Wasim Akram himself, who is inarguably the greatest left-arm pacer ever, has claimed multiple times that Amir reminds himself of his playing days. In my vantage point, such comparisons are often unfair and necessary but it wasn’t a hyperbole by any means to say that anything could stop a bowler possessing such an enormous amount of potential from reaching celestial heights and becoming the next big thing in world cricket.
However, things didn’t swing Amir’s way and Amir’s career turned out to be an altogether different affair.
Having quit Test cricket in July last year, Amir announced his retirement from limited-over internationals after representing Pakistan in 147 international matches in a video message whereby he lambasted the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for mentally torturing and overburdening him.
“Every two months, someone says something against me,” said Amir. “Sometimes the bowling coach [Waqar Younis] says Amir ditched us, sometimes I’m told my workload is unsatisfactory. Enough is enough.”
The 28-year-old left-arm pacer will now only ply his trade in T20 leagues across the globe.
The literary term “tragic hero” aptly describes Amir’s career which spans over more than a decade and had its fair share of doom and gloom. He was universally revered in the beginning, then disgraced and booed at after his involvement in a spot-fixing scandal, and then loved again for some heroic performances before finally slipping off the selectors’ radar due to a lean patch.
After making his debut against England in a T20 match at The Oval in June 2009, Amir could only represent the green shirts until August 2010 when he was banned for five years alongside Pakistan’s then-captain Salman Butt and his bowling partner Mohammad Asif after the now-defunct tabloid News of the World found the duo guilty of bowling deliberate no-balls in exchange of money. This ephemeral period of about 14 months, however, were more than enough to leave his mark with some memorable performances.
In the final of 2009 T20 World Cup, he accounted for the tournament’s leading run-getter with a well-directed short delivery sending Tillakaratne Dilshan back to the pavilion for a duck. Playing his first test in Australia, where even the top visiting bowlers are treated with disdain, he tore through Australia’s batting order with a five-wicket haul at Melbourne.
In July 2010, Australia took on Pakistan in England and Australian batsmen were again found all at sea against the teenage pace sensation who pocketed 11 scalps at 21 apiece. Even in that ill-fated tour of England, he fared extraordinarily well becoming the youngest bowler to take 50 Test wickets, breaking into the Top 10 of ICC’s ranking of Test bowlers and getting his name on the Lord’s honours board at an age of 18 years and 136 days.
The sight of a frail teenager regularly bowling at speeds around 150 kilometres per hour and ripping through the batting order of top teams is always worth savoring. Interestingly, Amir’s best was yet to come. Disappointingly, he fell into the trap set by his skipper as a consequence of which the doors upon his career were closed for five years. And in so doing, he let down countless fans not only here in Pakistan but also across the globe who glimpsed a future star in the prodigious teenager.
Thereafter, Pakistan relied on their spin triumvirate of Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez for a long time to do the damage with the ball. Although plenty of promising pacers like Junaid Khan and Aizaz Cheema came through the ranks to fill the void, Pakistan’s quest to find a pacer for a long term wasn’t smooth sailing as some were scarred by injuries while others were not up to the international standard.
Fast-forward to 2015, when Amir’s ban expired, he was just 23. The PCB looked on to Amir to bail them out of their fast-bowling woes but they were caught in the crossfire whether they should give someone a second chance who tarnished their reputation. Some asserted that he has already served his punishment and should be given the green light to don the green shirts again whilst others vehemently opposed his comeback with some players showing reluctance to play alongside him. By virtue of strong outings in the Quaide Azam Trophy, he seized the opportunity and clawed his way back into the national team convincing the selectors that he hasn’t lost his touch despite a prolonged absence from playing cricket.
For their T20 series against New Zealand in January 2016, selectors announced Amir’s name in the squad who got the chance to restart his career in the first match of the series. In the third game of the series, he got a taste of what he should have expected to face frequently throughout his remaining career. The stadium announcer played the sound of a cash register taking a dig at Amir while fans waved cash at him chanting “I’ve got a dollar for you”. The Home of Cricket, which Amir had left in disgrace, turned out to be the venue for his comeback Test and fittingly it was he who cleaned up England’s last batsman to seal off a victory for his side.
In Pakistan cricket, a good performance against arch-rivals India is a shortcut that can guarantee the player to become a star and be endeared by the fans. Amir knew how to strike the right chord in the hearts of Pakistan cricket viewers and he did it with aplomb. In Asia Cup 2016, he scared the living daylights out of Indian batsmen and displayed a beautiful exhibition of fiery seam bowling against them in the T20 World Cup 2016. In the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy, he was at his devastating best when he dismantled India’s robust top-order putting his team in a commanding position to win the tournament.
In Amir, Pakistan had a bowler who had the potential to assume the mantle of their pace spearhead for the foreseeable future. Alas, his magical splendor eluded him soon and his ascendency morphed into despondency. His pace dropped drastically in the final stages of his career, and sans World Cup 2019, his performance remained below-par. Even the greatest players go through a lean patch but it is how they emerge from it which sets them apart from ordinary sportsmen. He was full in his right to hang up his boots whenever he wants but his condescending tone in the farewell message gives birth to the barefaced question if he has reciprocated the love and investment PCB put in him. It also imparts a lesson that if PCB finds a prodigy in the future, it needs to ensure that he lives up to his potential and doesn’t meet the same fate as Amir.