Mohammad Aamer goes from strength to strength
Mohammad Aamer doesn't seem to lack much, not smarts, not pace and certainly not confidence. He fairly bounced into the press box after the fourth day's play, his first five-wicket haul in the kitty, and immediately engaged in some lively, witty banter with journalists. And why not?
He's been Pakistan's most dangerous bowler in this Test. He's bowled quicker than he has bowled before; in particular on the third afternoon when he unleashed a spell of such visceral intensity, it lit up the entire day.
This morning he carried on, though in making an old ball talk from round the wicket, he provided another dimension altogether. The dismissals of Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, had the stamp of Wasim Akram on them: old ball coming in with the angle, straightening and leaving the batsmen. Haddin had barely kept out the previous ball, which had homed in on his pads. The MCG has seen such deliveries before, on more august occasions.
How many left-armers have been as adept and dangerous at this angle of attack so early in their careers? Some go through entire careers without being able to do so. Shane Watson is as well-placed as any to speak about Aamer, having taken him on in the game's most riveting battle, and he is convinced that little is missing from Aamer's game. "He's an extremely good bowler," Watson said. "It's amazing that he's only 17 because the pace that he bowls, the skill that he has, he's able to get the ball to move both ways. He's got a slower ball, a good bouncer and he keeps charging in too. He bowled a lot of overs and especially yesterday evening he bowled a very good spell of fast bowling and this morning. I'm glad he pulled up stumps when he did."
Watson should have been Aamer's sixth wicket, but he was grassed at point on 99. Not that Aamer was unhappy with a five-wicket haul, for the impression he has made has been greater than the number of wickets he has taken so far. "It's a great feeling," he said. "I've bowled good spells and been a bit unlucky a few times so it was good to get the wickets this time. I've felt in good rhythm through this Test and really enjoyed my spells. Australia is a big team and to make a mark here is always important. If it can help my team in any way then it will obviously feel much better."
And though he was particularly happy with the way he dismissed Clarke today, the prize scalp was that of Ricky Ponting the day before. He had spoken of wanting Sachin Tendulkar's wicket before the Champions Trophy and went on to get it. He had spoken of Ponting's wicket before they arrived here. The plan had been to use the Chris Gayle method, to bowl short, and its success pleased Aamer no end. "It's a great feeling because he is such a big player, the best batsman in the world," he said.
"I was happier that I got him out according to a plan. I got a lot of confidence from that, because in cricket it shows me there is no batsman too big or bowler too big. You only need to use your brain and have some confidence. Seniors tell you how to go about it and if you follow that, you shouldn't be in trouble. Obviously I was really happy because he is a big player but also happy because a captain is depending on you, setting a field for you to bowl to and succeeding in that and whether it is Ponting or any other batsman, it is a great feeling."
Gradually, since his international debut at the World Twenty20, Aamer has also bulked up; Akram and a number of others have advised him to put on some weight to protect a naturally frail body. Work with David Dwyer, Pakistan's Australian trainer, has helped put on the muscle and the pace has since increased. He has crossed 150kmph a few times at the MCG, on what is still thought to be a sluggish surface.
"Maybe my pace has increased," he said. "It happens sometimes when the more you play, the more your arm gets used to the load and the looser it gets. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that it is a big series and I am striving harder. I don't really feel it that I am bowling faster but the speeds are there.
"I have built up my body a little. I've worked hard with DD (David Dwyer) on it and have increased my weight from 72kg to 75kg. I've added a bit of muscle to it. If we have rest days between matches, maybe four to five days, then I spend time in the gym, but in back-to-back Tests that is difficult to do. On any day off, we work to whatever plan DD gives us."
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo