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Mohammad Amir is still the leader of Pakistan bowling attack……           

The star performers from subcontinent carry a lot of expectations with themselves whenever they take the field. Automatically, they become the heartbeat of nation. Performing well becomes their utmost duty and fans can’t bear any below-par performances of their heroes. None knows such things better than Mohammad Amir, who became the poster boy of Pakistan cricket in 2009 and 2010.

Already, Amir was the next Wasim Akram and in each match, he was fulfilling the expectations of a nation; tattered by political turmoils, the war against terrorism and a deadly flood. As the expectations of Pakistani fans started to grow more, their world was shattered by one hell of a spot-fixing scandal. They could accept Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt as wrongdoers, but it was not easy for them to see Amir as one of the guilty party.

Amir would suffer a 5-year ban from playing all forms of cricket. On January 29, 2015, it was stated, Amir would be allowed an early return to domestic cricket despite his original ban being due to expire on 2 September 2, 2015. Amir managed to play in the Bangladeshi domestic arena in 2015 and next year, the Pakistani fans discovered him in the national squad.

After a gap of 5 years, the biggest challenge for Amir was to revive the old days, when not only the Pakistan fans, but the world would watch Pakistan’s matches only for Amir’s bowling. But the journey had not been easy at all.

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In 5-day matches, Amir discovered, he was struggling to maintain his rhythm and hit the seam appropriately. He was struggling to extract movement off the new ball and found it tough to drag the length back and move the ball late in the air and off the surface.

Moreover, the notorious slip cordon of Pakistan denied Amir since his return to Test cricket –  18 catches were dropped in 17 Test matches since Amir made his return. Those dropped catches had not only cost Pakistan, but at the same time, prolonged the much-desired return of Amir to full rhythm.

In Pakistan, the pace bowlers just crop up with astonishing regularity. In that sense, Amir’s place in the team was not guaranteed.  Still, the Pakistani think-tank stuck with Amir for two years. But Amir remained inconsistent and was dropped from the team in all three formats three formats during the home series (UAE) against Australia and New Zealand.

Also read: Will Pakistan forget this Test series without learning anything?  

Amir played 4 Test matches at home since his return and numbers suggest, he had been frustrating: 7 wickets at an average of 56.42 against low-ranked teams like Sri Lanka and West Indies don’t do any justice towards his abilities. Again, his performance in the short-format of the game lacked the cutting edge.

But Amir did not lose heart. He went back to play in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy matches where he impressed with his skill and wicket-taking abilities: 23 wickets at an average of 13.61from last four matches last year was enough to include him for the African safari.

Pakistan’s chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said, “Amir is a wonderful bowler and we all know how skillful he is! But since his return, he went through a lot of workload and didn’t get enough time to rest. He was always in our plans. He was dropped for his good, to allow him to go back and not only rest but also work on his deficiencies”.

After the end of three-match Test series against South Africa, one needs to agree with Inzamam’s statement.

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Amir might not have generated enough pace like 2009 or 2010 – a vital factor, which was required from Pakistan pacers – but with his ability to restrain South Africa from scoring freely and pick up wickets by building up pressure deserve accolades. In South Africa, Amir proved yet again, he is still the leader of the pack and whenever Pakistan needed crucial wickets, Amir was always there.

In the first innings of first Test he picked up 40% of wickets and it was the same in first innings of second Test also. In the third Test he plucked 20% of wickets and on Day 1, he was part of an inspiring comeback by Pakistan in the post-tea session, where South Africa lost 7 wickets for 33 runs. The third Test could have been a memorable one for Pakistan if the batsmen delivered the goods. But like the previous two Tests, the Pakistani batters could only deliver a poor batting display.

Amir finished the series as the highest wicket taker by a Pakistani bowler: 12 wickets at an average of 23.58, which is even better than Dale Steyn, Hasan Ali, Yasir Shah and Mohammad Abbas.

The striking thing about Amir’s bowling was his change in length. Previously, he was more inclined towards a full and good length, from where he used to bring the ball back in – obviously, he would not want them to go away because of a poor slip cordon. And for which, a middle-and-leg stump line was adopted most often. But, to bowl the incoming deliveries effectively, pace was required, which Amir has lost since his return.

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In South Africa, Amir did not bother about the outcome from slip cordon, but pulled his length to short of a goodish one and stuck with a middle and off stump line while bowling from over the wicket. He was targeting the top of offstump and it paid back. Even if he lacked pace, his deliveries possessed enough venom to dismiss batsmen.  Pakistan witnessed a different Amir.

Certainly, Amir’s form in South Africa during the Test series had been encouraging. His wicket-taking abilities in SENA countries might be slightly better than UAE, but it is too early to write Amir off as an away-bowler. Amir has still a lot to offer in home conditions and one can expect Amir to improve more and more after the Test series against South Africa.

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