ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019
Amir looked at his best against Australia, helping Pakistan fight back ©Getty
Despite a remarkable comeback in the first innings to restrict the Aussies to 307 and staging a fine recovery after losing Fakhar Zaman early in the chase, Pakistan failed to bag two crucial points in their fourth match of the ongoing World Cup. Mohammad Amir believes that the final result, which saw Pakistan lose to Australia by 41 runs, was due to his fellow pacers’ inability to pitch the ball up in seam friendly conditions.
With rain in the days leading up to this contest and a tinge of grass covering the wicket, it was anticipated that the team winning the toss would look to bowl first to make the most of the conditions. That the match was scheduled early in the day and the ground remained under a heavy cloud cover further provided advantage to the pacers.
Sarfaraz Ahmed put Australia into bat after winning the toss and the latter’s openers put up a solid 146-run stand thanks to the poor lengths that the Pakistan pacers, except Amir, bowled at them.
“It would have been a different picture altogether had we pitched the ball up in the first 10-15 overs,” Amir told Sony Television Network after the match, adding that his side could’ve restricted the Aussies somewhere around 250 had the bowlers hit the right lengths.
When Shaheen Afridi, drafted in the playing XI at the place of Shadab Khan, returned for his second spell in the early second powerplay, the official broadcast showed his balls to be landing more in ‘the slot’ region as compared to the short-of-the-length or short regions, which was the case in his first spell. That first spell, however, was curtailed to only two overs after he was consistently spanked for boundaries by David Warner and Aaron Finch which left Shaheen with none for 24, and Australia at none for 27, before Hasan Ali was introduced in the sixth over.
Though Hasan gave only a single in his first over, he was slashed for fours in his next one by both Warner and Finch on shorter deliveries. What exacerbated the situation for Pakistan were the dropped chances – Finch got two reprieves and Warner got one. The opening stand could’ve been ended in the 13th over with only 71 runs on board had Asif Ali grabbed a sitter at first slip when Finch edged Wahab Riaz. Four overs later, Sarfraz failed to cling onto an edge of Mohammad Hafeez’s second ball of the match.
Finch’s was finally removed when Amir returned for his second spell, in the 23rd over and induced a leading edge from a length delivery which ballooned for Hafeez to grab it. The left-arm pacer remained at his best throughout the entire course of the Australian innings. He sent across two maidens in his first spell, which was four overs long, and was struck for only one boundary in 10 overs. More than half of his deliveries were dots. He picked up four more wickets to record his first-ever five-wicket haul in ODIs. His 5 for 30 in 10 overs was also the best for a pacer for Pakistan in World Cups since Wasim Akram’s 5 for 28 against Namibia in the 2003 edition. For now, he sits at the top of the chart for the most wickets with 10 in three matches at an average of 12.30.
His run over the course of this tournament has been phenomenal considering his stats since the Champions Trophy in 2017. He had picked up only five wickets, at a strike rate of over 121 between the Champions Trophy and the ongoing World Cup and wasn’t included in the preliminary World Cup squad.
“I am not thinking about how I couldn’t take wickets [before the World Cup]. That is only going to put pressure on me,” he said. “I have been working on my wrist position since I landed in England. There’s a stark difference in the white balls being used now as compared to 2009. But, I got the ball to swing for the first two years after making a return to cricket. It was perhaps the fatigue factor [which hampered him from getting the lateral movement in the air] because I played a lot of cricket when I made the comeback after five years.”
Pakistan are now languishing at the eighth spot after this defeat. Considering India’s form and their hundred percent win record over Pakistan in the World Cup matches, it will be an uphill task for Pakistan to beat India in their next match on Sunday and improve their standing on the points table. For Amir, mental toughness will be key to beat India.
“We can beat India. We have a deep batting lineup which was on display today. All we need is mental toughness.”