Mohammad Amir is in “perfect” shape for the Lord’s Test and ready to expose any England frailties against left-arm pace.
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur reports Amir fully fit, despite the knee injury which appeared to trouble him during last week’s victory over Ireland in Dublin, for the start of the two-Test NatWest Series on Thursday.
He is confident too that Amir is more than capable of seeking out the vulnerabilities among the home batsmen which were apparent through England’s winless winter – in the Ashes against Mitchell Starc and then when New Zealand’s Trent Boult helped to bowl them out for just 58 in Auckland.
“He’s perfect, 100 per cent,” Arthur said of the pace spearhead who took his 100th Test wicket in his 31st match against Ireland.
“He’s fine, ready to go.”
Amir, 26, is returning for the second time to a hallowed venue where he first outdid and then disgraced himself as a teenager – with a wonderful first-innings six for 84, followed by his involvement in the spot-fixing controversy which resulted in his jail term and five-year ban from cricket.
Two years ago, in Pakistan’s 2-2 drawn series in England, Amir was back with some fine bowling which did not perhaps bring deserving figures.
Arthur added: “I think Mohammad Amir is the finest exponent of pace and swing when he gets it 100 per cent right.
“We believe he bowls incredibly well at left-handers, and there will be three left-handers in the (England) top four.
“He’s ready, he’s determined, he’s fit, he’s strong, he’s excited …”
Arthur insists he has no concerns, meanwhile, about the output of key batsmen Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq.
“I’m not at all worried by them.
“They are quality players – their records speak for themselves.
“They roll up, they are big-match players, they’re fine and they’re all batting really well at the moment.
“I’m confident they’ll deliver for us.”
He will be urging the tourists to take an attacking rather than attritional approach over the next two weeks.
Asked if Pakistan can defy the predictions of many that they may struggle at Lord’s and then Headingley, Arthur said: “Of course we can, definitely.
“We haven’t come here not to win.”
The South African has a healthy respect for his opponents who traditionally excel at home.
“In their home conditions, England are a different team to England abroad.
“(But) if we play well enough, this is a changing room full of very, very skilled cricketers, very young cricketers, fearless cricketers – guys that don’t fear failure.
“They are an intelligent, skilful bunch of cricketers, who if we get the breaks and things go our way, will certainly put England under pressure.
“There are going to be times when you need to control the game… but for us the best form of pressure is if we can put pressure back on the opposition – and we do that by attacking.
“The emphasis is on taking wickets and on scoring (quickly).”
This Thursday morning, the whole Pakistan Cricket Team or just their two opening batsmen (dependent on the toss) will walk down the stairs from their dressing room inside the famous Lord’s’ pavilion, negotiate a few awkward twists, turns and passages and then proceed to stride through the beloved Long Room, packed with members of the Marylebone Cricket Club, and out onto the outfield.
Returning to the Home of Cricket will evoke good memories for all those concerned with Pakistani cricket.
In July 2016, the Men in Green triumphed by 75 runs in a thrilling victory over four days in north London. England had a good chance of chasing down 283 to win the game but Yasir Shah’s brilliance inspired Pakistan to a win in the first Test of a four-match series which ended 2-2.
That Test, in particular, is remembered for Misbah’s celebratory press-ups after he became the oldest centurion at Lord’s since 1926 – aged 42. The celebration was also a nod to the Pakistan team’s pre-military camp, following criticism of their fitness by the media.
The emotion of that success at England’s HQ was more than just about going 1-0 up in that series. The match also saw the return of Mohammad Amir – six years on from the infamous 2010 spot-fixing scandal in which he received a five-year playing ban.
Indeed, Amir’s comeback and that win helped to heal the scars, somewhat, from all those years ago while the draw in the final Test at the Oval secured Pakistan’s path to the No.1 test ranked team in the world for the first time.
It was a staggering feat considering Pakistan had not played a home Test since the 2009 terror attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore. To make reaching top spot even sweeter, Pakistan knocked eternal rivals India off the summit of the standings.
It was fitting that captain Misbah managed to guide his men there before he and record run-scorer Younis Khan retired the following year, when they helped their nation claim a maiden Test series win in the Caribbean.
Two Tests this time around seem too short and sweet, with the second coming fast up on the rails on June 1 at Headingley. But, for now, Lord’s is in Pakistan’s sights again and it’s a venue where they’ve recorded four wins in 14 visits. A decent record.
From that side that played two years ago, the current Pakistan XI and likely XI that will be named at the coin toss by skipper Sarfraz Ahmed this week, is virtually unrecognisable.
Azhar Ali, Sarfraz and Mohammad Amir (if fit) are set to be the only survivors.
The big names missing of course include: Misbah, Younis, Mohammad Hafeez, Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah.
Amir missed the warm-up game as he was given time to rest his problematic knee that forced him off the field during the Ireland Test in Dublin that Pakistan won by five wickets. As the warm-up match was heading for a draw, Amir bowled at full pace on the side square and is understood to have come out unscathed, according to the AFP.
Amir’s fitness and workload have been a major concern for Pakistan ever since he returned to international cricket in 2016 following a five-year ban for spot fixing in 2010 Lord’s Test.
The left-arm pacer has played in all formats and has featured in the bulk of Pakistan’s matches. However, Amir has struggled with fitness and also a lack of bite in his bowling on occasions because of the heavy workload.
The first Test begins at Lord’s on Thursday.