A big thing happened in the life of Mohammad Amir today. For nearly every other elite athlete it isn’t a big deal at all. It is a duty they must fulfill but one they approach with various degrees of interest or disdain.
Two days away from the second Test at Headingley, and 62 international matches into his second career, this was the first time Amir came out to face the media en masse. He’s given a few – very few – one-on-one interviews since he’s been back but generally within the team and management, it’s been known that Amir was the one guy they don’t put up to face the press.
For obvious reasons – too many journalists means too many questions and too many questions means somebody is bound to ask about you-know-what, which is something Amir and Pakistan are trying to move on from.
But today they brought him out and the rationale was as simple as it was logical. He is a senior player now in a still-young squad. He should speak for the team. This tour has been a bit of a coming out for Amir and it’s been handled well.
He was good too. He joked about shaking hands with every journalist, as Azhar Ali had done at Lord’s. He laughed at the start and said “very good” when it was made clear that the questions would only be about this series and not you-know-what.
The trickiest question he had to deal with was to identify weaknesses in the England side. He sidestepped that nicely too, like a pro who’s been doing this for years. “They are a very good side, they’ll come hard at us, but we’re also working hard,” and so on.
Also, it really helps to have been doing well. The last two Tests have represented a sustained period of good bowling for Amir, better than at any point since his return. He’s taken 10 wickets in two Tests, which doesn’t sound extraordinary, granted, but it is only four less than how many he took in all of 2017. And he has, potentially, seven more Tests this year.
The reasons for it are pretty clear. “I’ve felt the length – if you look at my past games, the length was a little short,” he said. “I’ve worked with Azhar [Mahmood, bowling coach] bhai in the nets to push my lengths especially for Tests further up.
“When the ball swings you get wickets from a fuller length. So I was trying in the last two games to push the ball further and you can see the difference.”
To many who have watched him, with some frustration at not hitting those fuller lengths often enough for two years now, that’s a conclusion he should’ve reached a long time ago. But, we sometimes forget, it isn’t easy to just roll up and start bowling fuller. Wasim Akram, for example, has counter-intuitively pointed out that bowling yorkers took a greater physical toll than bouncers.
“When you are tired it is difficult to push it further,” Amir said. “But I believe you have to be ready as a professional for all situations. You need to know what Test cricket demands, what ODI cricket demands.
“As I said I was working with Azhar bhai about how to set my lengths. It doesn’t happen in one or two days. It doesn’t mean that if I’ve done well in two matches that has now been sorted. I’m still learning about how well I can do by pushing the ball up.”
Overcast conditions – and some rain – are expected over the first couple of days at least so those lengths will do well to remain up there. That should also be the lesson from his only other appearance at Headingley, eight years ago against Australia. Seven wickets in a memorable win, including those two peaches to Steven Smith and Mitchell Johnson first balls after lunch on the first day.
He let out a little laugh after being reminded of that game. “That is eight years ago. My personality is that things that have happened in the past, they’ve happened. It’s over. This is a new day, a new game.
“Eight years ago, cricket was completely different. It’s a different team, a different system. The Lord’s victory is a motivation for us, it does give us confidence, but we want to do better than that. We can’t relax. We want to enjoy that but the attitude and confidence and discipline, it has to be double that of the last game.”
Spoken like a man who’s been doing these press conferences all his life really.