Babar Azam extends brilliant form in England with T20 Blast blitz

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Babar Azam playing for Somerset.

Pakistan star batsman Babar Azam is in the form of his life and he is making the most of it.

The best young batsman in the game entered the extended tour of England – that included an ODI series against England followed by the World Cup and now a stint with county side Somerset – high on hopes. And he has delivered.

Babar was one of the few bright sparks for Pakistan during their underwhelming World Cup campaign, hitting three fifties and a ton in eight innings. While it wasn’t quiet enough to seal a semi-final spot for Pakistan, Babar had proven his class at the biggest stage. And he took that confidence in the T20 Blast for Somerset, hitting successive fifties.

After a slow start in the first two matches, Babar cracked an unbeaten 95 off 61 balls against Hampshire. He followed it up with 83 off just 50 balls against Sussex. Unfortunately, both knocks ended in defeat.

With his two latest innings, Babar has extended his great run in England. In his last 10 innings in the country – ODIs and then T20s – Babar has hit four fifties and a ton. Two of those knocks were scores of 90s and only one outing produced less than 30 runs. And he entered the World Cup on the back of a century and an 80 in his last two knocks in the England ODI series.

It is his consistency which will give Pakistan fans and management hope for the future as he is well equipped to take on any condition and format.

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Mohammad Amir Test retirement throws a spanner in the works of Pakistan

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Mohammad Amir.

It is said a fast bowler reaches his peak around the age of 27-28. That’s when the body and mind has matured and there is enough gas in the tank to make things happen with a cricket ball.

But if you made your international debut as a 17-year-old and took the world by storm immediately, 10 years can seem a long time even if five of them were spent serving a ban from the game.

Maybe it was that workload which prompted Mohammad Amir to retire from Tests and concentrate on white-ball cricket. But even so, it was a bolt from the blue.

Reports from Pakistan suggest Amir is looking to relocate to the UK – his wife is a British passport holder – which is why he took the decision.

Whatever the reasons behind the move – relocation, freedom to choose assignments, extend franchise cricket career – the reality is Pakistan are without their main all-condition red ball bowler and that too at the start of the new World Test Championship.

Pakistan are scheduled to play two Test in Australia at the end of the year and three in England in the middle of 2020. That’s five Tests which are part of the Test Championship. And Pakistan have little time to find a pace spearhead in that period.

Amir was effective in his last two major overseas Test assignments – 12 wickets from three Tests in South Africa this year and seven scalps from two Tests in England in 2018. Was he the best bowler on show? No. But a decent Amir is still highly valuable for a team like Pakistan struggling at number seven in the Test rankings.

Medium pacer Mohammad Abbas can straightaway be discounted on flatter wickets, while Hassan Ali has lost his spark. That leaves talented but inexperienced pacer like Shaheen Shah Afridi to lead the attack; imagine a teenager leading the charge against Joe Root and Steve Smith.

Pakistan have quality quicks like Mohammad Hasnain and Mir Hamza but getting them ready in time for the away assignments within one year might be too big a task, especially since it has been thrust upon them.

Sure, Amir has lost a fair bit of pace and needs to recharge his batteries in order to get the nip back in his bowling. But the Pakistan management must have expected the seasoned campaigner to oversee the transition process over the next year.

Pakistan, who are grappling uncertainty over Sarfraz Ahmed’s future as captain now have to make do without their top Test bowler. Amir has his reasons to do what he did. But he must remember that he was given an opportunity by his nation to re-enter the international arena after the spot-fixing scandal of 2010. A less abrupt end of Test ties and a clearer path forward regarding all formats would have been easier on everyone.

Anyhow, Pakistan have a spanner in their works and not a lot of time to figure out how to get it running again.

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Pakistan pace ace Mohammad Amir announces Test retirement

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Mohammad Amir.

Pakistan paceman Mohammad Amir has announced his retirement from Test cricket aged just 27.

The left-armer returned to Pakistan’s Test side in 2015 having been handed a five-year ban for his involvement in the spot-fixing scandal in the series against England in 2010.

Amir also served half of a six-month prison sentence for the offence which involved bowling deliberate no balls.

He was Pakistan’s leading wicket-taker at the recent World Cup and is still committed to playing white-ball cricket for his country.

“It has been an honour to represent Pakistan in the pinnacle and traditional format of the game. I, however, have decided to move away from the longer version so I can concentrate on white ball cricket,” Amir said in a statement.

Amir was one of the brightest prospects in the game when his ban came in 2010 and he ends his career with just 36 Tests to his name.

In that time he took 119 wickets, including 24 in his last six Tests.

“It has not been an easy decision to make and I have been thinking about this for some time. But with the ICC World Test Championship commencing shortly, and Pakistan boasting some very exciting young fast bowlers, it is appropriate that I call on my time in Test cricket so that the selectors can plan accordingly,” Amir added.

“I want to thank all my team-mates as well as the opponents in red ball cricket. It has been a privilege to play with and against them. I am sure our paths will continue to cross in limited-overs cricket as all of us play and compete with the same vigour and determination.”

Pakistan Cricket Board managing director Wasim Khan said: “Amir has been one of the most exciting and talented left-arm fast bowlers in Test cricket in recent times.

“He overcame adversity as a young cricketer and came back stronger not only as a cricketer but also as a better human being. His skill, on the field, and his personality will be missed in the dressing room in the longer format. However, we respect his decision and look forward to him continuing to play an integral role in white ball cricket for Pakistan.”

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