Since that eventful Champions Trophy Final at the Oval, Mohammad Amir has been cutting a frustrating figure for Pakistan…….
Pakistan have struggled throughout the Asia Cup, but find themselves just one win away from securing a final berth of the tournament. Their match against Bangladesh on Wednesday at Abu Dhabi is a virtual semi-final and the winner of that match will take on India in the final on Sunday. After defeating Hong Kong in their first game, Pakistan have found it difficult to register wins. They were handed two defeats by India and then just about managed to scrape through against Afghanistan.
The issue with Pakistan in this tournament has been the poor form of their bowlers, especially their quick bowlers. Over the years Pakistan have produced some of the deadliest fast bowlers in the world. While they do have a vast pool of talent even now, they have failed to deliver in the Asia Cup.
Talking about one particular bowler, Mohammad Amir’s form has taken a downward spiral ever since the Champions Trophy 2017 final against India. He bowled one of the best spells of the tournament in the final, but since that day in June 2017, he just has not found it easy to get the breakthroughs. As a result, Pakistan have suffered and the batsmen have managed to get their eye in and score freely. Since the Champions Trophy Final, Amir has played 10 matches in which he has just managed 3 wickets at 100.66 and a strike-rate of 140. These figures are bad even for a part-time bowler, but we are talking about Amir, who had ripped India to shreds in the Champions Trophy Final, a little over a year ago. The only good thing about Amir has been that he has not conceded plenty of runs and despite going through a dry run in terms of wickets, his economy rate is 4.31.
With Amir unable to pick up wickets early on, the pressure has often fallen on others like Hasan Ali or Usman Khan to chip in with a few wickets. While they were successful in getting Pakistan wickets against Zimbabwe, they have found it a tad difficult in the Asia Cup. Which is why it is a surprise that Sarfraz Ahmed has not picked Junaid Khan in the XI till now, but instead, decided to give a young, rookie fast bowler Shaheen Afridi a go. Every game is crucial and if Pakistan are serious about winning this tournament, they need to stop with the experimentation and get their best players in action.
The Mohammad Amir who broke the Indian batting last June is nowhere close to the Mohammad Amir that’s featuring for Pakistan now. He was in fact dropped for the game against Afghanistan and Afridi was given a debut and went on to impress. However, with India having always struggled against left-arm seamers, Amir made a return to the XI and once again put in a lukewarm performance. Also, it has been 11 matches since Amir bowled his full quota of 10 overs. The last time he bowled 10 overs was against Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy last year. Yes, Pakistan have the likes of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez, who chip in with a few overs as a result of which bowlers do not complete their quota. But it could also be due to the lack of confidence the captain has in you. With Amir having gone wicketless in his last 5 matches, it is very much possible that Sarfraz has second thoughts about giving his premier fast bowler a second or a third spell.
In that case, why should Amir even be in the XI? Perhaps the Super 4 match against India will be his last match of the tournament or the team management might back his talent and continue giving him a longer rope. Either way, Amir has to get his act together, if Pakistan are to lift the Asia Cup. Despite an ordinary performance so far, they still have a chance to do that.
In fact, since his return to international cricket in 2016, Amir has picked up just 26 wickets from 25 matches at 38.15 and a strike rate of 46.7. That’s almost a wicket every 8 overs, which is too high for a strike bowler. However, his economy rate has been excellent, conceding runs well under 5, in his 200-plus overs.
This has perhaps been the worst patch in Amir’s career. Mind you, he still does not have a 5-wicket haul in ODIs but has never been short of wickets in every match. He runs in with everything he’s got and usually bowls a devastating spell in which he gets a wicket or two. But, whether it’s form or lack of confidence, we do not know. Pakistan have not done themselves any favour by dropping so many catches in this tournament. Rohit Sharma was dropped twice on Sunday, once inside the opening 6 overs of the innings when he was batting on 14. Also in the match against Afghanistan, Pakistan dropped as many as 4 catches, relatively easy ones. It is a surprise that they did not go on to lose that match.
Pakistan, like India, picks its players based on certain fitness tests. Only those who pass the tests can represent their country. Imad Wasim was not picked as he had failed and it was probably the same with Mohammad Hafeez as well, although they have insisted that he remains in their plans for the World Cup. Going by Pakistan’s fielding this tournament, the standards of those tests do not seem to be high enough or the Pakistan team aren’t putting extra yards to work on their fielding.
It was in 2008 that a new captain MS Dhoni decided to drop some of the big guns as they weren’t good fielders. Dhoni was of the belief that due to poor fielding, his side was not able to choke the opposition, which demoralised the bowlers. From then, India transformed itself into one of the best fielding nations in the world – An area for which they were often criticised in the past. Pakistan can certainly take a cue.
As far as Amir is concerned, it could be a matter of just one match before he returns to full flow. Pakistan should not press the panic button just yet. Sarfraz can try something different. Maybe get Amir to bowl as the first change. Maybe try Amir for short burst of 3-over spells. The heat and humidity in UAE are relentless and this could have a positive impact on the fast bowler.
His form in the shortest format seems to be alright, having picked up 18 wickets in his last 10 matches. While the challenges in the 50-over format are a tad different, Pakistan could drop Amir from the rest of the Asia Cup matches, but should not lose hope.
With the Test series against Australia coming up next, Pakistan will want Amir rearing to go for that one.