Cricket
Umar Farooq 543d

'Terribly lucky' to return to Test cricket - Amir

Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Amir has said he is "terribly lucky" to be back in the Test set-up, having served a jail sentence in the UK and a five-year suspension from the ICC for his role in the 2010 spot-fixing case. Coincidentally, Amir is set to resume his Test career next month at Lord's - the scene of the fixing scandal.

Ahead of the Pakistan team's departure for England on Saturday, Amir also said he had "unfinished business" and sought a fresh start to help Pakistan win the four-Test series.

"To be honest I never thought about my comeback and I feel terribly lucky to be back to play Test cricket again," Amir told ESPNcricinfo. "I was all excited for Test cricket because that is where my career was held back and I still can't believe that this is happening. You call it a coincidence or whatever, but to me it is a blessing that I am starting right from where I stopped in 2010. That tour was marred by the controversy and that left me with unfinished business. My only aim is to be the best bowler of the series, get Pakistan to win the series, and sign off with fresh memories."

Amir was successfully reintegrated into Pakistan's limited-overs team this year, but he has not played a Test since 2010. The fast bowler conceded he hasn't forgotten the past, but he hoped to overcome it and put his name on the Lord's honours board again.

Amir, only 18 then, was the youngest player to find a place on the honours board when he claimed 6 for 84 on his first tour to England in 2010. He was Pakistan's leading wicket-taker in the four-Test series with 19 at an average of 18.36, and ultimately shared the Player-of-the-Series award with England batsman Jonathan Trott. He and Mohammad Asif were then convicted after deliberately bowling no-balls at Lord's.

"I might have registered my comeback months ago, but Test cricket is the actual cricket, and playing it again is what I was looking forward to, and this is my real comeback," Amir said. "I won't say that I have forgotten my past, as my memory still holds those ugly moments from 2010, but I want to perform well. I want to get my name on the honours board at Lord's once again to win back the love and support in England. I am looking at this tour positively as I want to supersede my past with a better future."

Amir's reintegration had met internal opposition, with ODI captain Azhar Ali and former captain Mohammad Hafeez choosing to stay away from Pakistan's training camp in December, before the New Zealand tour. The side has moved on since, and Amir said he was "stronger than before", having learnt his lesson.

"As a bowler I always try to be different every day and want to come hard to take a step towards improvement," he said. "You will see a different Amir this time in England as a bowler, as a person with new refreshing thoughts. See I have gone through a lot of tough times, which actually taught me a lot of good lessons, and now I am much stronger than before. With every passing day I am getting mature, and maturity comes with time and experience. I got enough in my life to stand strong and look for a positive future ahead."

Amir also felt that his case would be an example for other players, and called for a life ban if anyone is found guilty of fixing.

"This fixing in cricket should not be allowed and anyone caught should be banned for life," he said. "If anyone still hasn't learned a lesson from our cases, then he will be the biggest fool. Whatever happened with us and the way our careers went down, I think this is the biggest example for everyone. Imagine what we could have achieved in those lost years. I had missed five of the best years of my life and if I was still playing, everyone would know where I would have been standing right now.

"If this [corruption] is still happening it is really alarming and there is a serious problem in the dignity of the player. I think the player must alone be blamed and nobody can help this. Neither the home board, nor the ICC nor the parents can help if the player doesn't want to be honest. I think players themselves have to be honest. I fully back what [Alastair] Cook has said the other day, that fixers should be banned for life."

Although England captain Alastair Cook and fast bowler Stuart Broad expressed no concerns about facing Amir, who had served the punishment handed down to him, again, the Pakistan fast bowler was wary of sledging and hostility from the crowd. During the side's tour to New Zealand earlier in the year, Amir was taunted by the Westpac Stadium announcer Mark McLeod, who had played a cash register sound effect during one of the bowler's spells on his comeback. Pakistan's team management had also claimed there was a spectator who flashed money and jewellery at their players during the first ODI in Wellington.

"I always believe that as a professional you have to be ready for any kind of situation," Amir said. "The crowd sometimes gets nasty but you are a professional only if you handle all kinds of situations wisely. In the ground the crowd shouts wherever you go, but as a professional it's my duty to focus on the game and if you are not doing it, you are not into cricket. So naturally when I am on the ground, my utmost focus is on cricket and this is what I will be doing in England as well. Sledging is a part of game and it isn't new in cricket and I have this in my mind. But I don't want to lose my focus; I would rather think about my performance. With a positive frame of mind, such negative things will be irrelevant."

Amir has shown sparkling form since his return to cricket. He picked up 14 wickets in nine games in the Bangladesh Premier League at an average and economy rate of 12.64 and 5.56. He followed that with seven wickets in seven matches in the inaugural Pakistan Super League, including a hat-trick. Amir then took five wickets in two ODIs and 11 wickets in as many T20 internationals in 2016, including a sensational 3 for 18 against India at the Asia Cup in February.

There have been a few questions about Amir's fitness for the longest format, but he stated that he was ready for Tests. "The recent training camp in Kakul enhanced my fitness level," he said. "I had never experienced such an intense training session and I really enjoyed that. I can clearly see a big difference in my fitness level after finishing the camp. I am completely ready for this form of the game and I have always been in love with five-day cricket. I am desperately waiting for it."

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