There may have been more high-profile matches since his comeback when Mohammad Amir has revived memories of the fast-bowling prowess that filled the cricketing world with so much excitement.
But there has been nothing more full of verve, more glad-to-be-alive than his hounding of Yorkshire at the Scarborough Festival. He has sniffed the air of this much-loved coastal town and, with a fresh breeze at his back, the ball swinging and the pitch offering decent bounce, he has occasionally felt unstoppable again.
If Amir’s 5 for 18 in the first innings, as Yorkshire crumbled for 113, brought as many reflections about Yorkshire’s bad batting against the swinging ball as the admirable quality of Amir’s bowling, his second-innings follow-up as he returned 5 for 54 – career-best match figures of 10 for 72 in the match – accentuated the feel of a fast bowler reinvigorated.
Yorkshire were dispensed with in less than two days, Essex winning by eight wickets after cutting them down to 25 for 5 in the first innings, 37 for 6 in the second. Jamie Porter, a handful when there is movement to be had, also had a fine match but it was Amir’s sails that billowed.
With their Championship lead extended to 46 points and Amir showing such prowess in only his second Championship game, Essex’s coach Chris Silverwood and captain Ryan ten Doeschate had reason for the broadest of smiles.
A partisan crowd will not accept such an overwhelming defeat easily, especially as Yorkshire do not have the look of title contenders. It is also money that the Festival can ill afford to lose. But perhaps most will grudgingly accept that Amir, lithe and dangerous, had been worth it: a performance to add to Festival history.
Amir’s pace – top-side of 140kph – has been largely present since his international return, but the snaking swing so reminiscent of Wasim Akram at his finest has been harder to master. It was largely absent, by his own admission, on Pakistan’s tour of England in 2016 and he says it will not often be seen in T20 cricket where he tends to bowl with a different arm action.
At Scarborough, his swing at high pace was evident. Yorkshire, shorn of their Test trip of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance, had a guileless feel to the middle order, but such was Amir’s threat that many a Test batting line-up might have perished in the same circumstances.
Dashing in with intent from the Trafalgar Square End, he removed Alex Lees with his second ball, a hangdog push at a wide ball which left him from a left-handed opener whose career – hopefully only temporarily – has headed into a siding. Tom Kohler-Cadmore, enticed back from Worcestershire this season, might enliven Yorkshire’s T20 cricket, but he has yet to prove his worth in the longer form. Amir snared him by lunch, snaking a delivery in from around the wicket to have him lbw, half forward. But it was the ducks for two England allrounders shortly after the break which most indicated that Amir was at the top of his game.
Tim Bresnan’s heroic century almost won the Championship for Yorkshire in the winner-takes-all clash against Middlesex at the end of last season; this season, he has collected the first two pairs of his career.
Amir was roused by a refused lbw appeal – a good decision because the ball struck him outside the line. Two balls later, from around the wicket, he made one bounce and leave Bresnan to have him caught at second slip. Adil Rashid had no answer in Amir’s next over, dangling his bat blindly to be caught at the wicket.
He did not find things all his own way as Yorkshire, from 86 for 8, evaded the likelihood of an innings defeat, adding 46 for the ninth wicket in the persons of Jack Leaning and Ben Coad. Coad, struck on the body twice in three balls as Amir became increasingly frazzled by his ill luck, edged him to second slip. Leaning, unperturbed and selective, reached 70 before Amir held the final catch at long-on, punching the air.
Yorkshire had not had a two-day finish in the Championship since 2003 when they lost to Worcestershire on this ground, Curtly Ambrose to the fore. The pitch was blameless, encouraging cricketing excellence with bat and ball.
Since he returned to international cricket 19 months ago, tasked with putting that calamitous Lord’s Test of 2010 behind him, there have been moments when Amir has asserted that his talents will rise again.
There was his Test-best 6 for 44 in Kingston in April this year, his fifth wicket causing him to fall to the ground and perform the sajdah, but the weather was wet and mournful and any achievement spread over three days never quite feeds the soul.
Most stirringly, there was the Champions Trophy final at The Oval in June, 3 for 16 in six overs against India, a pivotal moment in Pakistan’s victory as he marked his return after missing the semi-final against England by dismissing Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan cheaply.
The Oval was Amir’s redemption: Rohit, the maker of a century in the semi-final, defeated by pacy inswing; Kohli, the best batsman in one-day cricket, dropped then dismissed in successive balls. A victory in a global tournament to savour. At the 131st Scarborough Festival, where competitive cricket has often been played with an underlying sense of fun, Amir was exultant as he advanced Essex’s prospects of their first Championship since 1992.
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