Mohammad Amir made his international comeback after serving a five-year ban during Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand in January this year. Given the fact that he has had to deal with hostility from fans, media and even some of his teammates, it’s understandable that he is yet to settle down fully after his reinstatement.
The 13th edition of the Asia Cup, a tournament whose relevance has been questioned every now and then, flagged off with India and Sri Lanka getting off the mark on a winning note. Pakistan are yet to play, and they start their campaign against India on Saturday in what promises to be a cracker.
There are a plenty of reasons to deem the match between the two arch-rivals as a ‘historic affair’ — whether it is the bad blood shared between the two sides, which has resulted in a number of spectacular contests as well as controversial incidents, or the sheer quality of raw talent that both teams possess.
However, one player who will feel the most pressure ahead of Saturday’s game is Amir, for whom the match could be the best opportunity to announce his comeback. A potentially match-winning performance against Pakistan’s arch-nemesis is what the 23-year-old needs to win back his teammates and fans affection after securing a place in the squad.
The story of Amir’s career is one of dramatic highs and lows — suitable for a sports flick. After making his debut in 2009 at a tender age of 17, Amir scaled such dizzying heights in just a year that he was already marked as the next big thing in cricket. Pakistan pace legend and the ‘Sultan of Swing’ Wasim Akram admitted to not being as clever at that age as Amir was.
As they say, not everyone can digest newfound fame, and Amir soon fell into the trap of cricket’s underbelly. After recording a few spectacular spells during the tour of England in 2010 (also featuring a neutral series against Australia), in which he recorded 30 wickets at an average of around 20, Amir was found guilty of indulging in spot-fixing during the fourth Test at Lord’s along with Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt.
Pakistan was robbed of a future star, one who could have kept alive the country’s glorious tradition of consistently producing top-notch pacers. Such was the impact of his ban that West Indian legend Michael Holding was nearly reduced to tears at the thought of a young genius having to spend time in jail instead of castling stumps with ferocious inswingers.
Amir however, remained remorseful throughout the period of exile — perhaps the most difficult years of his life — and apologised to the entire nation for failing to control his greed. Having served time at a British prison, Amir kept up his hopes of wearing the Pakistan greens alive. His prayers were finally answered when the Pakistan Cricket Board picked him in the ODI and T20I squad for tour of New Zealand.
The ride for Amir has been far from easy so far; he has had to deal with hostile teammates in Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali, has been greeted with boos at Eden Park in Auckland (who can forget the cash sound made in the stadium’s public announcement system after his name was announced) and has not been forgiven by several members of the cricket fraternity, including his former coach and ex-Pakistan pacer Aaqib Javed.
Javed was Pakistan’s bowling coach during the ill-fated tour in 2010, and still feels “betrayed” by the whole incident to this day, as per a report in The Indian Express.
Amir was well aware of all that is taking place before he bowled his first ball after comeback against New Zealand at Hamilton on 17 January.
He was aware of the stir within his own team. He was aware of the deafening din that he would have to face while fielding in the deep. He has done a fine job of producing a few moments of magic in the limited opportunities that he has got since his return.
Saturday’s crunch game against India is the perfect occasion for him to return to his old ways. There’s nothing that is even half as satisfactory for an average Pakistani cricket fan as a victory against India — the notion of which applies to fans on the other side of the border as well.
Indo-Pak contests— at par with the greatest rivalries of all time like Yankees vs Red Sox, Ali vs Frazier, Barcelona vs Real Madrid among others — have been used by various cricketers to announce themselves on world stage.
Shoaib Akhtar burst onto international cricket by yorking both Dravid and Tendulkar off consecutive deliveries in 1999. Wahab Riaz’s 5/46, which included an unforgettable inswinger to dismiss Yuvraj Singh for a golden duck, brought the fiery pacer into the limelight.
In Amir’s case, a stellar performance in the ‘mother of all contests’ might just be the right recipe for him to start his second essay with a bang.