When a floppy-haired, skinny, 17 year-old Pakistani left-arm pace-bowler made his Test debut in Galle against Sri Lanka, it was an exciting moment not only for Pakistani cricket-lovers, but fans of pace-bowling around the world. The exuberance of youth, the passion of playing cricket and most importantly the incredible levels of skill from one so young were clearly evident. The name – Mohammad Amir – was the talk of the cricketing world, taking six wickets on Test debut and after only one match he was heralded as the next Wasim Akram, as the comparisons were already being made by many.
At the start of his Test career, the southpaw was quick, aggressive, able to swing and seam the ball; in short, Amir was every captain's dream. If the skipper needed wickets, Amir more often than not would deliver. After his debut series in Sri Lanka, Amir took seven wickets in three Tests in New Zealand. Following the tour of New Zealand, Amir toured Australia and impressed many pundits with his pace and accuracy, grabbing eight wickets in two Test matches.
However, it was in 2010 that Amir's world changed forever. He was selected for the Test series in England, where Pakistan played against Australia in a two-match series in England before taking on the hosts. The two series were expected to take pace sensation to greater heights in the eyes of fans around the globe.
The tour started well as Pakistan shared spoils with Australia, drawing the series 1-1 with Amir picking up an impressive haul of 11 wickets. In terms of his bowling Amir excelled against England, taking 19 wickets in the four Tests and bowled beautifully against an impressive batting unit.
However, the much-documented events of the spot-fixing scandal during the tour of England were to damage Amir's standing and Pakistan cricket's reputation for a long time to come. Whilst some felt Amir should have been never selected again for Pakistan, others were more forgiving and felt that he deserved another chance after he had served his ban.
In 2016, following an almost six-year gap from Test cricket, Amir was back playing the longest format. Amir himself had stated that whilst he was banned he thought of quitting cricket for good, but he also felt that he had a point to prove and wanted to repay the faith shown in him by close friends, family and some team-mates. Many observers doubted Amir's return, that not having played cricket for so long, he would never be the same bowler as he was at the start of his career. There were questions about whether he would be able to cope mentally and physically in addition to moral concerns from team-mates regarding playing alongside him. It was not going to be a smooth and easy ride for Amir and he knew it.
Three years on from his comeback to international cricket, it would be fair to say that Amir's decision to retire from the red-ball format has not been a huge surprise. It was going to come, but it was just a case of when. Playing in all three formats for the modern-day fast bowler is a tough ask, with cricket being played all-year round and the lure of Twenty20 leagues possessing a huge draw for those who are lucky enough to be in demand for these leagues.
If truth be told, Amir could simply walk into most of the world's Twenty20 leagues and that is likely to have been a factor in his decision to quit Test cricket. In simple terms Amir probably thought why drag his body through the rigors of five-day cricket day-in and day-out, when he could earn a lot more money plying his trade around the world by bowling merely four overs at a time.
Amongst Pakistani cricket-lovers there are mixed feelings about Amir's decision to quit Test cricket. Many feel let down by his decision, particularly given that he is only 27 years of age and in theory should be peaking as a pace bowler. Many are disgruntled because he ended up playing only 36 Test matches across a decade, whilst some feel that the decision is purely selfish driven by financial reasons. Others are angered and feel that he has not repaid the faith of the Pakistan Cricket Board who stood by him during and after his ban.
However, whilst, there is the other lot who are more understanding towards Amir's decision. It is well-known fact that Amir has at times struggled for form and was only called-up into the World Cup 2019 squad at the last-minute. The consensus amongst those who are more understanding is that if Pakistan can have a fully-fit and motivated Amir in two formats then they would rather take that over a misfiring and unfit Amir, playing across the three formats.
Questions will be asked about the motives of Amir's decision to quit the red-ball format. Many will feel that this is a scenario which could have been resolved between the Board and the player with a compromise being made wherein Amir could have been rested for some series and tournaments.
Only Amir knows the reasons for his untimely decision, but one thing is for sure that it's a huge concern for the world of cricket to see a 27 year-old cricketer quit Test cricket in favour of playing only white-ball formats. This will surely pave way for more players to follow his path and not just within Pakistan, but beyond as well.
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