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All eyes on Amir as Pakistan return for Test at Lord’s

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Pakistan's fast bowler Mohammad Amir (C) talks with teammates at the cricket academy in Lahore, on June 18, 2016, ahead of the team's departure for London
Pakistan’s fast bowler Mohammad Amir (C) talks with teammates at the cricket academy in Lahore, on June 18, 2016, ahead of the team’s departure for London

Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir will hope to put the 2010 spot-fixing scandal behind him once and for all when he returns to the scene of the crime in Thursday’s first Test against England at Lord’s.

Six years ago, during a Lord’s Test against England, Amir and Pakistan new-ball partner Mohammad Asif deliberately bowled no-balls on the instructions of captain Salman Butt as part of a sting operation carried out by a tabloid newspaper.

All three received five-year bans from cricket and, together with sports agent Mazhar Majeed, jail terms.

Such was the impact of the controversy, the fact teenage sensation Amir took six for 84 in the first innings of that match has largely been forgotten.

For all his time out of cricket, the 24-year-old retains the ability to swing the ball late at sharp pace, as he showed with a first-innings haul of three for 36 in Pakistan’s tour opener against Somerset.

It means an England side missing all-time leading injured wicket-taker James Anderson and sidelined all-rounder Ben Stokes, should not have things all their own way as they did in the preceding 2-0 home series win over Sri Lanka.

While the likes of former Pakistan batsman Ramiz Raja have expressed doubts about the wisdom of letting Amir back into international cricket, players on both sides have accepted the situation.

“We could talk or moan about it and have our opinions but the fact is it is not going to change him opening the bowling at us on Thursday or playing against us throughout this (four-match) series,” said England batsman Joe Root.

Amir is far from the only threat in a Pakistan bowling line-up also featuring fellow left-armer Wahab Riaz, Sohail Khan and leg-spinner Yasir Shah.

The key to the series could lie with both teams’ top-order batsmen.

England were repeatedly bailed out of early collapses against Sri Lanka by in-form middle-order batsman Jonny Bairstow.

Pakistan have a strong middle order in skipper Misbah-ul-Haq fellow veteran Younis Khan and the in-form Asad Shafiq.

But doubts persist over openers Mohammad Hafeez and Shan Masood, just as there are concerns as to whether Alex Hales, yet to score a Test hundred, is the right man to partner skipper Alastair Cook at the top of England’s order.

– ‘Trash talk’ –

The combative Riaz is looking to target Root, now promoted to number three by England.

For the Yorkshireman, that was just pre-series “trash talk” but Riaz said of Root: “He is the backbone of the England team and getting him out early will put the pressure on England.

“If he thinks it is just trash talk then hats off to him.”

Turning to Amir, Riaz added: “He is a very intelligent bowler and he is a very strong lad… He is eager to perform.”

England will have to decide whether to give a debut to either Jake Ball or fellow paceman Toby Roland-Jones, wo plays at Lord’s for Middlesex, as the fourth-placed team begin their bid to leapfrog Pakistan (third) in the world Test rankings.

The match will also mark the return to Test cricket of England batsman Gary Ballance after he was dropped last year.

But an unconcerned Riaz said: “We are not worried about what England has picked or they haven’t picked.

“The only thing we know is that England is a good team in their home conditions.”

For Riaz, and many Pakistanis, there is more riding on this match than just the raw result.

“Under the captaincy of Misbah this team is much more united,” he said.

“We have seen the hard time of Pakistan cricket…We have managed to make the people all over the world believe that Pakistan is a good Test team.

“The Pakistan team are a strong team and can always give you a hard time.”

Being without Anderson is blow for England.

However, when he was ruled out of last year’s fourth Test, fellow quick Stuart Broad took eight for 15 on his Trent Bridge home ground, as Australia were skittled out for 60, to set up an Ashes-clinching win.

Source by: AFP

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