August 20, 2010

In appreciation of Mohammad Amir

In February 1999, as the Asian Test Championship got underway, India took on Pakistan in Calcutta (now Kolkata)

Mohammad Amir always provides a grand visual feast with his bowling © Getty Images

In February 1999, as the Asian Test Championship got underway, India took on Pakistan in Calcutta (now Kolkata). On the very first day, I found out, much to my delight, that a Bangladeshi restaurant in Manhattan was showing the game live - on a large screen television, no less. The timings were still inconvenient though; New York was in the grip of a typically freezing winter, and my venue of choice was a half-hour walk from home. Company would be nice in my cricket watching endeavours.

So, I asked my good Australian friend and housemate, David, if he'd like to join me for the first session of play on the second day. He sounded unenthusiastic in his response: he didn't have a dog in this particular race, and why would he want to go out on a cold winter's night? Sensing his hesitation, I played my trump card: "You know, there's a new Pakistani quick that's playing - I've heard he's bloody fast". At this, David's ears perked up, and a few minutes later, loaded down with heavy jackets, scarves and gloves, we stepped out to make that long walk. (Shoaib Akhtar did do a lot of damage that day)

Eleven years on, a new Pakistani quick is still occasion for excitement. Wahab Riaz's debut was spectacular all right, but to be honest, I'm writing because in all the cricket I've watched this year, some of the most thrilling moments have been provided by Mohammed Amir, Pakistan's latest production from its mysterious factory dedicated to producing pacemen (its location hasn't been reliably ascertained, but there is some suspicion it is located in the Punjab).

Amir does all a left-arm quick could and should do: he bowls genuinely express deliveries; he cuts and seams the ball; he can reverse swing; he can bowl yorkers and short-pitched deliveries with ease. And to cap it all off, he has amazing body language: besides the electric smile and the aeroplane celebrations, he possesses an action that conveys the power and dynamism of pace bowling in ample measure (and like that of some greats of years gone by, is whippy and muscular both).

Fast bowlers are sometimes called the showponies of cricket, those that aim to the provide the supposedly most thrilling sight of all, that of a stump sent cartwheeling. Amir always promises a grand visual feast in that sense, but he also prompts admiration at the sight of a young man dealing in the advanced skills of his trade with consummate mastery (he conceals the ball in his run-up as well as anyone out there).

I don't know where this young man's career is headed, but for his sake and for the sake of cricket spectators the world over, I hope he stays fit. Batsmen the world over might not appreciate my attempts to get the gods of fate squared up behind Amir, but even they, when standing at the non-striker's end, might find the generosity of spirit to appreciate this budding maestro's skills.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here