T20 WC: India must be wary of the Mohammad Amir threat

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By Mahtab Ahmad

Not too many positives can be gleaned from a shocking loss to the United States but if Pakistan were asked to find one ahead of Sunday’s clash with India, Mohammad Amir’s 19th over could be instructive. You could contend that in the context of the match that was lost in the Super Over that was also bowled by Amir, the set-up shouldn’t matter.

Pakistan's Mohammad Amir misses hitting the wickets during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group A cricket match between the USA and Pakistan at the Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium in Grand Prairie(AFP)
Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir misses hitting the wickets during the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group A cricket match between the USA and Pakistan at the Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium in Grand Prairie(AFP)

But it does, irrespective of how the highlights reel may portray the left-arm fast bowler. Partly because conceding just six runs when the ask was a highly gettable 21 off 12 balls is praiseworthy, notwithstanding the result. More so, when one does that negating a highly deceptive pitch.

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That last bit shouldn’t be any different at the makeshift stadium in New York’s Nassau County, handing fast bowlers a greater advantage than in any other ICC event from recent memory. Jasprit Bumrah’s curiosity is bound to be piqued, so should that of Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf and Amir. Probably none more than Amir, and for valid reasons as well. Shah has been the quickest, but still lacks the maturity to work out the lengths early. Rauf tends to get carried away by movement off the pitch, and Afridi often seems to flounder with his lengths after those initial bursts with seam.

Amir brings all those to the fore, and then tops it with an unsurprising bouquet of variations, all of which were on display in that 19th over against USA. There was the fullish length slower ball angled across the right-handed Aaron Jones, teasing him to chase it as its pace dropped. Next up was a dipping yorker, near impossible to dig out; and even if it is, the ball can’t clear short midwicket at best. The following delivery was an angled yorker landing on middle-stump that had to be squeezed back to Amir. Full on the stumps, or dying on the batter angling across the stumps — deliveries like these are like gold dust in situations like this. And Amir was producing them at will.

That over was also an example of what Amir can and cannot do, a remarkable display of his limitations as well as his range while catering to the constraints of defending a meagre total. Deploying third man, point, deep cover and a short midwicket, Amir had sealed the scoring points by blocking both the singles as well as the boundaries. But bowling to that field is a different task altogether, something that only Amir could have pulled off at that point.

There was also a bigger brief he was adhering to. “The plan was simple. We were just trying to bowl yorkers,” Pakistan captain Babar Azam had said after that match. “We did not change the plan because the ball was reversing and our bowlers were very accurate with the yorkers. So, our plan was simple, not doing anything different, just go and use the yorkers.”

That becomes more achievable when Amir is in charge. Once hailed as Wasim Akram’s successor, Amir is no longer Pakistan’s fast bowling pinup. But the run-up is still seductively measured, and that quick-arm release does a stupendous job of masking those yorkers and deceptive cutters. The pace has dipped, but the skill has gone through the roof. It understandably has increased the tentativeness in facing Amir, be it with the new ball or the old.

The post-ban avatar of Amir thus has been menacing, but more to India than any other team. No left-arm fast bowler has a better economy (4.14) or average (7.25) than Amir against India in T20Is. Afridi, the next best current Pakistan fast bowler on that list, has an economy of 8.54 and an average of 21.66 (both off two games). That Amir can also be human was evident in the manner he strayed from his lines in that Super Over against USA. India would hope it happens on Sunday as well.

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