2019 Cricket World Cup, Game 17, Australia v PakistanContinue reading
2019 Cricket World Cup, Game 17, Australia v PakistanContinue reading
They say that prison changes a man. We ourself have never been incarcerated. One time we accidentally ran a red light late at night because a cat was crossing at the junction. We slowed to a stop and watched it safely cross, but when we looked up again, we found that the lights had changed and we’d rolled a few feet beyond them.
Bang in the middle of a deserted junction, we had to choose between pointlessly reversing or simply driving off forwards. We went for the latter. Unfortunately, all of this took place immediately outside a police station and a cop car pulled us over and it was terrifying. It was about this point that we concluded that we probably weren’t equipped to do serious time in the slammer.
So we’re not 100 per cent clear what they mean when they say prison changes a man. As far as we can tell, it fractionally dulls outright cricket brilliance, because while Mohammad Amir remains a very, very fine bowler, the extraordinary gasp-inducing, match-turning moments seem to have come less frequently during Act Two.
He seems very slightly eroded. We’re interested to know what proportion of him remains and whether we can express that as a percentage of his former self.
Amir entered Feltham Young Offenders Institution with 51 Test wickets at 29.09. Since he emerged, he’s taken 49 at 34.91.
His one-day international figures tell a very similar story. The synopsis for that story would be “not quite as good, but similar” which is not exactly the kind of tale where people will be rushing to buy up the film rights.
Maybe this isn’t about the stats.
The most captivating cricketers are generally those who give you very specific memories. We are struck by those whose manic peak form transcends everything else we see, even if there is also a depressive compensatory period afterwards. We’re pretty sure Mohammad Amir fits into this category.
Sadly, Cricinfo does not record the number of times a player makes you say “holy shit!”
Maybe this is something CricViz or someone could look into. The general sense though is of holy shits arriving with reduced frequency.
They can still happen. For all the jaded, stubbly, not-quite-as-pure-and-joyous-as-he-wasness about Amir Mark II, he still has it in him to do things other bowlers cannot.
Not many people can bowl deliveries that would dismiss Virat Kohli in a one-day international. Fewer still can bowl two in a row. The only real disappointment was that the second one was caught, denying Amir a sort of Kohli moral victory hat-trick.
He should also be a bit better prepared for bowling in England than last time around. He played for Essex last summer and speaking to Wisden Cricket Monthly, wicketkeeper James Foster said something along the lines of: ‘He was getting crazy mad swing, the likes of which I’ve never seen before even though I’m old.’ (This is not a direct quote.)
Three things Foster literally said:
This is difficult. We’re absolutely regretting floating the idea of expressing this as a percentage because it doesn’t make sense. But you can’t just scroll up the page and delete stuff, can you? No, you can’t. Not in this day and age. You have to try and deliver what you suggested you might deliver, even when it’s impossible.
Amir himself says he’s learned new skills, but at the same time, he’s a bit more chronic knee problemmy. Let’s write those developments off against each other because then we can just concentrate on the original Amir and whether there’s been any reduction there.
The stats say there has been a reduction, but the Essex performances say otherwise (he averaged 13.50 in three Championship matches and was their most economical bowler in 13 T20 matches).
Conclusion: Maybe, if last year’s spell reminded him how to bowl in England, we’ll get somewhere around 95-100 per cent of the old Mohammad Amir (only without the propensity to make huge, life-changing mistakes).
Pakistan often lunge enthusiastically towards the ridiculous in the firm knowledge that this is their best hope of rebounding to sublime cricket – but even for them this moment was something else.
There is a strong argument that Virat Kohli is the finest one-day batsman there’s ever been. He is not a man you can afford to drop in the final of the Champions Trophy.
Oh no, turns out you can.
This delivery is basically what we all expected from Mohammad Amir, no?
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) 22 July 2016
Sometimes – like when watching an Alastair Cook innings for example – we can feel like we’ve seen it all before. There’s the cut. There’s the nurdle. There’s a leave.
Stumps being tonked by inswingers is not something we can ever imagine tiring of. Even when the team we’re supporting is on the receiving end.
As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything.
It’s also worth pointing out that that’s a younger version of his back in the photo above. Younger head too. Same age as the back, in fact – 2010 vintage.
What are the odds on Mohammad Amir getting a wicket first ball? This feels like one of those occasions. We’re a great lover of damp squibs and anticlimaxes, but this doesn’t feel like it’s going to be one. Or maybe the world is toying with us and he’ll pull out of the Test with a minor groin strain.
Speaking of groins, whatever happened to Gary Ballance’s groin has unhappened and he will play. A batsman seemingly designed to fall to late swing from left armers, he’ll no doubt be delighted by Amir’s presence.
As in ‘returned’. What else would the word ‘back’ mean in that context? It’s not like there’s an ambiguous apostrophe-S in there or anything.
Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif both played for Water and Power Development Authority against Federally Administered Tribal Areas in one of those somehat fictional sounding domestic fixtures in which Pakistan specialises. Butt made a ton.
Back when Asif, Butt and Mohammad Amir were banned, we wrote that a reformed cricketer would acknowledge wrongdoing and accept a fitting punishment that would serve the greater good of the sport. Whether you believe him or not, this is pretty much what Amir did. The other two, less so.
Butt spent most of his ban denying that he did anything, while Asif is just a dick and therefore saw no real need to apologise or seek redemption. As far as we can tell, he simply doesn’t care. He probably passed his time away from the sport shoplifting from charity shops and throwing his plunder into the river in a bid to clog it up.
Despite the protestations of some of his team-mates, Amir is now returning to the Pakistan side. The selectors said they went purely on ability in making their decision. By that rationale, it surely can’t be long before his one-time new ball partner also makes a return. Amir was good, but he was hit and miss. Asif, as unpalatable as it may be, was always better.
As we understand it – and we’ll cheerfully admit to being well out of our depth here – the judge rejected the basis of Mohammad Amir’s plea; that he was put under pressure to do what he did. Amir was asked to prove it and declined the opportunity, citing non-physical threats to himself and his family.
What do the grown-ups among you make of that?
Is it an opportunistic excuse based on the claims of Zulqarnain Haider or could it be the truth? If it’s the latter, how are non-physical threats going to keep you from giving evidence that might prevent a jail term?
Well, while writing this, we’ve just heard that Amir’s going to appeal, so maybe that’s what that’s about. Either way, someone should have a word with Ijaz Butt. He’s picking up the bookies circle loud and clear. He’ll know what’s going on.
“Please don’t let it be the kid,” said Nasser Hussain at the start of all of this. He spoke for most of us.
We wanted Mohammad Amir to be innocent, but it turns out that he wasn’t and believing that he might have become a future great makes no sense now that the facts are in.
He won’t be a future great and there is a very good reason for that.
Cricket, and Test cricket in particular, is a test of character. In fact, over the course of a career, it’s a test of everything. The great players weren’t necessarily the only ones with extraordinary skill at their disposal. They were also the ones who gave themselves the best chance of proving how good they were.
He is currently considered the best bowler in the world. Is that simply because he’s the most skilful? No, it’s not.
Some bowlers have had better opening spells, but Steyn stays strong all day. Other bowlers have taken more wickets in an innings, but Steyn bowls well almost every innings. Some bowlers have had fewer setbacks, but Steyn has responded better to the ones he’s had.
He’s had bad days and injuries and he’s wealthy enough that he doesn’t need to play. Yet he does. He hasn’t got lazy; he hasn’t got fat; he hasn’t grown dispirited or disillusioned; and as far as any of us know, he hasn’t accepted money to bowl any no-balls.
Being persuaded to fix elements of cricket matches is a failing. It knackers your career even more comprehensively than other failings, like lack of skill, lack of fitness or wealth-induced complacency, which is what keeps so many promising cricketers from achieving their potential.
We are not going to mourn the loss of Mohammad Amir, because even if he was pressured into doing what he did, he doesn’t seem to have resisted strongly enough. He was found wanting.
People are idiots. That’s a rule that pretty much always stands up to scrutiny. Put people in a position where there’s a choice to make and they will naturally veer towards the stupid option by default.
Even so, some options are sufficiently stupid that most of us don’t take them. With a huge, heavy Le Creuset pan full of curry in the oven, you can either take it out with your bare hands or you can put on the oven gloves. Most people will go for the oven gloves.
The remaining people can be split into two further subcategories. There are people who scald their hands and think “Christ, I’m never doing that again” and then there are a very small number of people who try and return the pan to the oven bare-handed after stirring the contents.
The latter are the people who can’t be helped. Simply sit them down in front of ITV1 and just pray that they don’t ever attempt to do anything again in the whole of the rest of their lives. We’re pretty sure that Mohammad Asif fits into this category. If he lost a finger in a Philips blender, he would probably still need to be told to keep his hand out of an active Kenwood blender.
Mohammad Amir, on the other hand, is hopefully the kind of man who only needs to sear his fingertips the once and he deserves a chance to prove it. A five year ban is a long time out of the game, but you can’t appreciate the significance of a second chance without knowing there were consequences when you stuffed up the first time.
We’re not sure where we stand on him. Older than Amir, but not that old, criticism of him seems to revolve around the fact that he should have known better because he’s ‘smart’ or something. Well clearly he isn’t that smart because he’s just been banned from cricket for a decade. Middle-class people who speak good English can be pretty damn thick as well and maybe they too should be allowed the opportunity to take or spurn a second chance.
If Amir or Butt are ever to take a second chance, they could start by acknowledging one thing – that those bans are not merely punishment for themselves; more importantly, they are a deterrent to others. A reformed cricketer would acknowledge wrongdoing and accept a fitting punishment that would serve the greater good of the sport.
Is there any chance of that?
That they bowled Australia out for 88 was something of a bonus. Quite simply, this was cricket LIKE IT’S MEANT TO BE. These three bowlers actually had a choice as to what they did with the ball, swinging it in and out and seaming it as well. They didn’t just ‘put it in the right areas’ hoping for the best. They had plans, they were devious and they were flat-out ace.
It makes it so much more interesting. What will the next ball do? How will the batsman cope? There was no ‘plugging away outside off’. There was no ‘waiting for the bad ball’. There was an actual battle going on out there because for once it wasn’t a batsman with a tank and air strikes against a bowler with a blindfold on and his knees tied together.
It was Test cricket.