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Pakistan fast bowlers have a tradition of first unveiling their menacing intent in Australia. The last two men who did this were named Imran Khan and Wasim Akram. Now there is a new kid on the block answering to the name of Mohammad Aamer. By an ominous coincidence, Aamer has taken a five-for in a losing cause in Melbourne, something Imran and Wasim also did.
Ominous, because after Imran took 5 for 122 in a 1977 Test that Pakistan lost to Australia by 348 runs, he went on to take those 12 wickets at Sydney that stand out as one of the great milestones in Pakistan's cricket history. Wasim's gratification was more delayed but no less grand. In early 1990 he took 6 for 62 and 5 for 98 in a Melbourne Test that Pakistan still lost. Two years later he was back in Melbourne, this time to be crowned Man of the Match in a World Cup final.
For the budding fast bowler, a tour of Australia offers an unparalleled growth curve. The pitches are hard, the atmosphere intense, the competition unforgiving. There is no more utterly sink-or-swim scenario in world cricket. Imran first came here in late 1976 with a reputation as a bits-and-pieces allrounder capable at best of wayward medium-pace.
He returned a few weeks later recognised as one of the foremost fast bowlers of the world. Wasim came here as an unknown in early 1985 and immediately took 5 for 21 in a crucial one-day tie against Australia.
"Everyone had to sit up and take notice," says Brian Murgatroyd of Cricket Australia in an ESPN documentary on Wasim. It marked the beginning of a career that would see Wasim counted among the great fast bowlers of all time.
Mohammad Aamer hails from Gujjar Khan, a town of about 70,000 that you pass on the motorway going from Islamabad to Lahore. Seventy thousand may seem substantial, but in Pakistan, a country of 160 million, it's the boonies. Now, however, it is on the cricketing map. This is where Aamer learned his bounding leap and wind-up action, and his ability to slant it across the right-hander down the corridor of uncertainty. Presumably, this is also where he picked up an attitude, including a tendency to mock impertinent batsmen by throwing flying kisses down the pitch. Less clear is where he picked up his disregard for renown. Before a Champions Trophy match against India a few months earlier, Aamer announced his desire to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar, and before this Melbourne Test he told Ricky Ponting to beware of the short-pitched delivery. Mission accomplished, in both cases.
He lacks the typical fast bowler's height, but a demon like Malcolm Marshall wasn't particularly tall either. And he is not fully adept at bringing it in to the right-hander, but even Imran took a while before he began moving it both ways with equal ease.
Most importantly, Aamer has shown he is full of fight. In a recent ODI against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi, he came in at 86 for 8 and posted the highest score ever by a number 10. The point is not so much that he is a capable batsman - although he did play some fine groundstrokes - but that he has a lot of heart. Certainly, a five-for in Australia on an unsporting wicket shows that he has the potential to get on top of any team.
He is still only a teenager. Although his official age of 17 may be under-reported, you can tell just by looking he is not a day over 19, at the most. Already he can clock at 150 kilometers per hour. In the coming months, he will put more meat on that thin, almost wiry frame, and learn more tricks. The evidence suggests Aamer is preparing to fill the shoes of a fabled fast-bowling dynasty that has preceded him. If history is any judge, they will take him far.
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