Mohammad Amir was “down and out” during his spot-fixing ban but has the cricket world at his feet again after his match-winning spell as Pakistan shocked their great rivals India in the Champions Trophy final.
As Pakistan celebrated their wonderful tale of the unexpected at The Oval, two of Amir’s closest allies in the victorious team spoke personally – about his chequered past, brilliant present and potentially even better future.
All-rounder Imad Wasim first met him a decade ago, when they were promising teenagers, long before the Lord’s spot-fixing saga which resulted in a six-month prison sentence and derailed the superlative left-arm seamer’s career with a five-year ban from all cricket.
There were almost six years, in fact, between Amir’s Lord’s Tests either side of his ex-communication – and, after returning last summer for a series against England, a handful of miles across the Thames on Sunday he delivered a wonderful spell of three for 16 which fast-tracked Pakistan to their 180-run win.
Imad, and Amir’s new-ball partner and fellow left-armer Junaid Khan, were both unsurprised by the deeds of one of the most skilled cricketers on the planet.
“I’ve played with him since 2007, captained him in Pakistan Under-19s, and I’ve always believed in Amir,” Imad said. “He’s always been world-class, and is a big-match player.”
There were long years, however, when it seemed all that talent may not come to fruition.
“I met him when he had the ban, and it was not a good feeling,” Imad added.
“To live for five years without cricket, he was absolutely distracted from everything – and he was down and out.”
Yet instantly as he returned, it was obvious to Imad that Amir had lost none of his ability.
“I played with him in his first game when he was coming back in domestic cricket.
“It was unbelievable – same pace, same everything. (I said), ‘What are you doing?’ – but he’s natural.”
Within four months, Amir’s return to international cricket was a formality.
“I’m one of his best mates, and we really wanted him in the team,” Imad said. “Whatever happened, happened – (but) he’s the number one bowler in Pakistan cricket.
“After five years out, you imagine how tough he is mentally (to come back like this). The best is yet to come from him.”
Only 25, Amir still has time to be an all-time great – and served fresh notice by making the shortest work of India’s stellar top order.
Junaid said: “It was a turning point for us, that new-ball spell from Mohammad Amir. He’s improving every day back in international cricket.”
Junaid is no slouch himself.
“He bowls it coming in, and my natural swing is away,” he added. “So it’s different, and that’s why when we bowl together it’s trouble for the batsmen.
“I think it’s the perfect combination.”
Captain Sarfraz Ahmed has already expressed the hope that Pakistan’s heart-warming win may somehow help convince the rest of the world to travel back to play them in their country – where so few have ventured since the terror attack on the Sri Lanka team bus on its way to a Test match in 2009.
Junaid has played just one of his 93 international matches in his homeland.
Instead, Pakistan have hosted tours in the United Arab Emirates and one ‘home’ series against Australia in England.
Junaid acknowledges both alternative venues, but deep down longs to add to that solitary rained-off one-day international against Zimbabwe in Lahore two years ago.
“Of course I want to do that – even if I just play one (more) game for Pakistan in Pakistan,” he said. “That would be a very proud moment, if international cricket came back to Pakistan.”
He does not rule out a return to England either, although it will be second best.
“We did it before,” he said. “Just look here, at the crowd we got at The Oval… but still, we want to play in Pakistan.
“First priority is we want to play cricket in Pakistan, or otherwise UAE is good.”
Wherever an itinerant team has to make its home, Sarfraz’s men have proved again they can beat the best – and Imad is hoping the 2017 Champions Trophy is just a start.
“It’s a young team, and to win this major event – which we’ve never won before – is a big achievement for us,” he said. “Imagine the confidence we get from this.
“We’ve won all (our last) four games, and we’ve proved everybody wrong. We’ve got a great side, one of the best in the world right now. This is not a fluke.”
:: Pakistan’s Champions Trophy triumph has pushed them up from eighth to sixth in the International Cricket Council’s updated ODI rankings.
They have moved above Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, putting themselves in position for automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup when the cut-off date arrives in September.
South Africa remain top of the rankings, despite their exit in the group stages of this month’s global tournament.