Cricket works in strangest of the ways. Before yesterday, if you had to visualise Mohammad Amir registering his best-ever ODI bowling figures in England then the description would definitely have words like sharp inswing, the outgoing lateral movement and assisting English overcast conditions. But no such thing happened yesterday at Taunton where Amir ended up picking 5/30 against Australia. Pakistan faltered in the chase and lost the match by 41 runs but the left-arm seamer proved the selectors correct. They had taken a massive leap of faith on 20th May.
On 20th May, Pakistani selectors announced the 15-man squad for the World Cup. It left everyone puzzled. Two bowlers whose last notable performances were in the winning campaign of 2017 Champions Trophy were preferred over current options. One of them was Amir and his case was quite perplexing.
Amir had gone flat after his match-changing spell against India in the 2017 Champions Trophy final. Since that buzzing spell of 3/16, the tainted bowler had sent down 101 overs across 14 innings and had taken only five wickets. In this woeful patch, he once went wicketless for six consecutive ODIs. His last hope of having a shot at the World Cup was performing in the five-ODI bilateral series against England in England just a few weeks before the mega event.
But Amir went down with chickenpox after the first ODI which was abandoned before he could bowl. He did not play in the remaining games. His absence from those matches actually boosted the chances of his selection as rest of Pakistani bowler were smashed into pieces by English batsmen. The Asian side conceded 300-plus totals in each of the four matches, three of which were 350-plus. Selectors decided to opt for Amir based on his past performance in England. The gamble paid off.
At Taunton, Australian openers were running away with the game. In his first spell (4-2-11-0), Amir kept the openers under control but failed to dismiss them. He went past Finch’s edge four times without any success. He returned in the 23rd over and sent back the Australian captain straightaway. He nearly had Warner in the same over. He kept troubling the left-hander in his next two overs but was unlucky not to pocket him.
Australia was cruising at 277/4 in 42 overs when Amir came back for his last three overs. On the first ball, he got rid of Usman Khawaja with a well-disguised slower ball, recorded 118 kmph on the speed gun. Shaun Marsh tried going big in the next over but was caught at long on. In the 49th over of the first innings, Amir yorked Alex Carey and dismissed Mitchell Starc to wrap up the Australian batting unit.
As Shoaib Malik held on to Starc’s catch, Amir went down to his knees and kissed the turf. His relation with England has been turbulent. In this very nation, he had won the man of series award and had been suspended from cricket due to spot-fixing. In his debut ODI World Cup, Amir is already the highest wicket-taker in the competition. The greatest redemption for him will be to stay at that position till 14th July.