KARACHI: Pakistan’s tour of England was supposed to be all about Mohammad Amir, and it actually was, and at one point, it almost felt like it would be England v Amir, until the first ball of the first Test was bowled.
The narrative was for the left-armer to be the proverbial phoenix that would rise from the ashes and wreak havoc on the English batsmen.
However, now that half of the series is over, the much hyped argument about what will Amir achieve on his return to the longest format of the game is somehow overshadowed by two gripping Test matches.
At 24 and having survived what he has survived, the Gujjar Khan-born received some praising comments from teammates and also from some senior cricketers of the past, which led many to believe that he is better now than he was back in 2010.
However, an evaluation of his past and present figures suggests otherwise. To analyse what Amir achieved so far in his first two Test matches on his return, let us compare his performance in his first two career matches, first two Tests in England and first two matches against England to come to a fair conclusion as to where we can rate his return to the five-day cricket.
In the current series so far, Amir has picked up six wickets at an average of a shade under 40, which by the looks of it and considering that he is playing in seamer-friendly conditions, does not make great reading. In hindsight, he is Pakistan’s joint second-highest wicket-taker with Rahat Ali behind Yasir Shah.
However, compared to what he achieved six years back in his first two Tests on English pitches, when he toyed with the batsmen and bagged 11 wickets at a stunning average of less than 23 runs per wicket, his current performance suggests a substantial regression.
Many will argue that it was almost akin to making another debut in this format after a gap of six years. But his original debut in Sri Lanka had better figures, where although he had picked up six wickets just like he did in the first two matches now, but at a far better average of 30 runs on those testing pitches.
So what could have been the reason for Amir to not have the return everyone was hoping for? Was it the pitch, the batting opposition or the fellow bowlers that made it tough for Amir to succeed?
Amir’s figures in outings in Galle and Colombo were impressive in 2009, where the pitches are traditionally spin-friendly. At Galle, six out of top seven wicket-takers were spinners, and at the P Sara Oval in Colombo, five out of seven top wicket-takers were spinners — indicating that pitches cannot be blamed here.
Surely this dip could not have been solely due the class of the opposition, as in the current England team, barring two of the world’s best in captain Alastair Cook and middle-order batsman Joe Root, the rest of the batting line-up has some serious questions to answer.
Back then in 2009 and 2010, Amir first faced the likes of Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan in their backyard. Thereafter, he was up against Ricky Ponting, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey and Simon Katich on English soil, and later on faced the likes of Cook, Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pieterson, Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior in his first two Tests against England.
While it may be difficult to provide conclusive answers, one possible theory could be the added burden of being the spearhead as well as lack of support from the other end.
In Sri Lanka in 2009, Amir collected six wickets, and fellow fast-bowlers Umer Gul picked up six and Abdul Rauf picked five, just like Rahat Ali picked six and Wahab Riaz picked five, but Gul and Rauf had a far superior average runs per wicket (a shade over 31) compared to Rahat and Wahab (45 and 43 respectively). Those numbers of Gul and Rauf become even more impressive when you realise that they did it on Asian pitches.
Even during the 2010 tour of England, which first became known for Amir’s breakaway series as well as the subsequent fall from grace, Amir was merely a cog in a triple threat, meaning the batsmen never had time to relax.
The 24-year-old grabbed 11 wickets at less than 23 runs per wicket in his first two matches against Australia, with fellow bowler Mohammad Asif (11) and Umer Gul (8) claiming wickets at average of shade under 24.
Later on that tour, Amir claimed seven wickets in the first couple of matches against England at an average of just over 23, but it was originally Asif who led the way with eight wickets at an average of a shade over 24.
As of now, no fast-bowler from the England team has an average of over 30 runs per wicket, whereas no Pakistani fast-bowler other than Amir has an average of less than 40 runs per wicket.
There is one thing that remains constant across all team sports, is the combined effort of a team which almost always outshines individual acts.
Pakistan’s pace attack these days doesn’t depend on all of its components, but lives with the hope that one particular individual could inspire them to victory.
It is said that partnership — be it batting or bowling — wins you matches, which is what our two Ws of the past achieved, where Wasim Akram’s accuracy helped in Waqar Younis’s remarkable strike rate, which eventually helped the team.
Hence, unless the likes of Rahat Ali and Wahab Riaz step up their game, expecting Amir to be the lone saviour is a lost cause.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2016.
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