It took Mohammad Amir six years to make a comeback into international cricket after the shameful events of 2010 put an abrupt halt to any aspirations of greatness. Had he spent those six years playing cricket, it could have been enough to propel him to stardom, on the path to fame. Fast bowlers grow and mature with more exposure; match time is everything. But match time was one thing that Amir, due to his own mistakes, didn't have at his disposal.
Whether it was the fear of losing a foothold in the game he loved or sound marketing advice from his advisors, instead of wallowing in self-pity, Amir set about resurrecting his career. He launched a charm offensive which included visiting hospitals and delivering lectures to help International Cricket Committee's (ICC) fight against corruption, all of which would have profound effects on his eventual return.
With sympathy from big names in cricket including Imran Khan, Michael Holding and Michael Atherton, the ICC ceded to the Pakistan Cricket Board's (PCB) request to allow the paceman to play domestic cricket ahead of the official expiry of the ban.
Against strong reservations of some of his illustrious peers, Amir, with the support of then head coach Waqar Younis and the PCB administration, made his long-awaited return to international cricket in an ODI series against New Zealand in January this year. He picked five wickets in that series, but impressed all with his speed and accuracy. Then, following a relatively successful stint in the Pakistan Super League (PSL), he was picked for the Asia Cup T20 tournament in Bangladesh. He had a memorable showing against India, where he picked up three wickets and elevated the 23-year-old to pre-ban levels in Pakistan's national psyche.
From that point on, and throughout Pakistan's ill-fated World Twenty20 campaign, Amir was a certainty for the country’s bowling attack as was also demonstrated by his subsequent selection for the tour of Ireland and England in the summer.
Amir's resurrection to the international arena was deemed complete as he walked on to the hallowed Lord's turf on 14 July. Absolved of sin by way of promise of a glorious future and forgiven for his past transgressions by a largely adoring and forgiving public, Amir thus played his first Test match since August 2010 against the same opposition.
To many who watched this display of fine bowling, the talented young man who reminded many of Wasim Akram almost six years ago was back in business. Back was the rhythm, movement and speed of delivery which had made him a household name at the start of his career. But when the dust had settled after his first full international series, missing were the numbers in the wickets column which had been expected by his devoted fans.
There were many explanations presented for Amir's ordinary return in England — 12 wickets in four Tests and four in four ODIs — though he was expected to easily be the leading wicket-taker in all formats. However, Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur continued praising him for how well he was bowling throughout the series.
Even Pakistan's legendary king of left-armers, Akram, weighed in with his views about Amir's wrist position not being ideal for taking wickets, but he too believed the young fast-bowler's talent and presence in the bowling line-up was a given if Pakistan were to succeed.
Blame it on the sheer weight of expectations or memories of a precocious young talent from six years ago, the fact is that Amir, as things stand today, is expected by many to pick a wicket in every over and a fifer in every innings. Mitigating factors — like a comeback after several years' absence — are neither here nor there for the doting fans; what is expected are match-winning performances every time he picks up the ball and runs in to bowl.
The simple fact of the matter is that Amir's return to international cricket was accompanied by so much hype and fanfare that while he bowled his heart out and narrowly missed out on some big wickets due to the Pakistani penchant for dropping crucial catches, the disappointment that he did not set the world on fire was writ large on many Pakistan faces. So, was Amir a victim of his own early success or has the magic of his younger years deserted him for good? Or, is it simply a case of the bowler needing more time to adjust to the modern-day game which has moved on since the last time he played at such level of competition?
The truth, as with all such matters, lies somewhere in between. No one can doubt the fact that Amir can send down deliveries at great speed, but there is the fact that the swing which made him unplayable six years ago is not quite there in enough quantity to get him the wickets that his fans yearn for. These are, however, technical issues that can be fixed with expert help which he will have at his side in the shape of Pakistan's bowling coach Azhar Mahmood. But there is also a psychological aspect of his bowling which may be preventing the natural aggression which is the lifeblood of any red-blooded fast bowler. To put it simply, the anxiety related to his past misdemeanours may well be preventing him from expressing his wicket-taking aggression on the field.
Regardless of when Amir will come into his own and fulfill the wishes of his supporters and start winning games for Pakistan once again, there is no denying the potency that the presence of an on-song Amir provides to the Pakistan bowling line-up. Given the inconsistency of Pakistan's other seam bowlers, a constant source of worry for the management, the raw power provided by Amir's bowling makes him a certainty for all Pakistan teams of the near future. All they need now is for him to take that confidence in his abilities and transform that into match-winning performances for his side.
The Mohammad Amir of 2010 was sensational and while he is yet to reach those dizzy heights, it will only be a matter of time before the wickets column starts to look a lot better. He will be back to his best, of that there is no doubt, but what he needs is patience, game time and the backing of teammates and the management before he reaches his optimum level once again.
Saj Sadiq (@Saj_PakPassio