He has played only four Tests out of the ten Pakistan have played in the UAE since his return, and perhaps there’s a good reason for it. One glance at Mohammad Amir’s record there suggests this isn’t the kind of bowler Pakistan need on pitches in that part of the world – their home, mind you, reported Cricinfo.
In those four Tests, against West Indies and Sri Lanka, Amir averages 56.42 for his seven wickets. Amir may have played in fewer than 13% of the Tests Pakistan have contested in the UAE since making it their home, but he has played in 37.5% of their defeats; Pakistan lost three of the four Tests in which the left-arm quick lined up for them.
You may have begun whispering it at some point, or finally reached the end of your tether and let it out, as captain Sarfraz Ahmed did after the Cape Town loss, publicly lamenting the lack of pace from Amir. But for anyone who saw him perform in South Africa, that much was evident. On day one in Cape Town, according to Cricviz, 61% of his deliveries were around the 120-132 kph mark. He has never bowled slower than that, and regular glances at the speed gun throughout the series would have told you he very rarely threatened so much as the vicinity of 140kph. On the moribund, unresponsive pitches of the UAE, that sort of pace, especially when the ball isn’t doing anything, will get you nowhere.
It was probably the reason Pakistan chose to look elsewhere across the entire home season, with Amir sent off to play the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy instead of Tests against Australia and New Zealand. But once the tour of South Africa approached, there was an air of inevitability to Amir’s call-up. In those conditions, it was reasoned, he still had the venom to be a menace, giving them options he could not provide back home.
His lack of pace might have dominated the headlines, but there is little doubt Amir was still Pakistan’s best bowler across the series. He was the leading wicket-taker for them with 12 across the three Tests, and had an economy rate of 2.67; no other Pakistan bowler could manage to restrain the South Africans below 3.1 per over. His average of 23.58 per wicket was bettered only by Faheem Ashraf’s, who only played the one Test. He might not have seriously rivaled Dale Steyn or Kagiso Rabada for pace, Vernon Philander for swing, or Duanne Olivier for bounce, but as far as his own team-mates went, Amir still shone as the brightest star from the lot.
That leaves the question of how Pakistan intend to use him. He could be seen as a vital option for when conditions are thought to be conducive for bowlers of his ilk, while the more workmanlike tasks fall to others in the team. It could mean Amir becomes an away-conditions bowler – in other words, a player Pakistan turn to when tours of South Africa, England, New Zealand or Australia (SENA) come up, while he sits out games in the UAE and potentially elsewhere in Asia.
In any case, SENA is where Amir has played nearly 70% of his Tests, though his record there is identical – and not especially superior to his record outside. But on the evidence of this series – and the last year, in which Amir played all his Tests outside the UAE, Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur believes it could be a possibility.
“It’s not just up to me which players play, that is the job of the selectors led by Inzi [chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq],” he told ESPNcricinfo. “But that could be a fair assessment of how we proceed with Amir. The tearaway quick Mohammad Amir who used to run in and rattle stumps and bowls at 145 is no more.
“But he gives us control, and is skilful when the ball swings. So there might be a role change for Mohammad Amir going forward. We will certainly rotate our quicks through the UAE a lot. We won’t kill them in our conditions; we’d look to rotate them through their time. We’ve got strength and depth in our bowling department, which gives us options.”
And as far as rotation arrangements go, this is hardly the worst deal a fast bowler could get. The last decade or so has shown us that, Mohammad Abbas this season apart, most quicks at best hope to bide their time in the UAE, hoping to do well enough to earn a ride to one of the countries where bowling fast isn’t back-breaking, or the ball rising above the batsman’s hips an anomaly. Amir, who had last year told ESPNcricinfo he might cut down on Test cricket to prolong his career, and wanted to be rested for the tour of Zimbabwe – a request that was turned down – could now almost see this best-of-all-worlds situation handed him by default.
Amir, for the early part of his career, was magnetic, electric, captivating. In the right conditions – as in the English summer of 2010 – he could make the ball swing around corners and whiz through the air at speeds a teenager really shouldn’t be able to generate. Now, he seems to have gone full circle; he is those things you might have considered antonyms of his description a decade ago. He is controlled, skilful, and disciplined. It is not nearly as enthralling to watch, and recent compilations of his performances may only draw a fraction of the YouTube views of 2009-10. But given the right conditions, the 26-year old remains an exceptionally handy bowler to have in the Pakistan side. Now, it looks like he may be given the right conditions all the time.