Amir's toughest phase is over - Azhar Ali
Pakistan batsman and ODI captain Azhar Ali has backed fast bowler Mohammad Amir's presence in the side for the tour of England, where the latter was charged for his involvement in the spot-fixing controversy in 2010, and has said that toughest phase in the bowler's career is over. The PCB has submitted a visa request for Amir to clear his selection for the tour, before the team's departure on June 18. Pakistan are set to tour England for four Tests, five ODIs and a T20I from July and are also scheduled to play two ODIs against Ireland.
Azhar, along with senior allrounder Mohammad Hafeez, had opposed Amir's return to the Pakistan side last year. The two players had refused to join a conditioning camp in December and the PCB later revealed it had turned down Azhar's offer to resign over Amir's inclusion in the camp. Azhar and Hafeez agreed to return 'unconditionally' to the camp after meeting with PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan.
"[What happened in] 2010 is in the past and now we need to look forward," Azhar said, when asked about Amir's possible presence in England. "It has been a while now since he has been with us. It could have been tough, had he come in straight on such a tour, but now, after playing with us for a long time, things have settled. Even he isn't under pressure because he has already made his comeback a few months ago and the toughest phase is over for him. I know England was the place where the incident [in 2010] happened but hopefully he can handle the pressure like he did on his comeback. But still if anything happens, we, as a team, will handle it."
The ECB has also indicated that it is supporting Amir's visa application. "We understand Mohammad Amir has been selected to play in the forthcoming series in England. Any decision on his entry into the UK is ultimately one for the UK Government. We have spoken to the Pakistan Cricket Board and will provide any support the Government needs in making its decision. Support could also mean information and background," a statement from the England board said last week.
In November 2011, Amir - along with Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif - was sentenced in a London court on charges of conspiracy to accept corrupt payments and conspiracy to cheat at gambling after a plot was uncovered in a News of the World sting operation to bowl deliberate no-balls in a Test against England in 2010.
Amir was given a six-month jail sentence and served half of it at the Portland Young Offenders Institution in Dorset. In January 2015, Amir was allowed to return to cricket ahead of schedule by the ICC, even as his five-year suspension period formally ended on September 1.
The fast bowler has impressed since his return to cricket, playing international matches as well as Pakistan's domestic competitions, the Bangladesh Premier League and the Pakistan Super League. Amir has taken five wickets in two ODIs and 11 wickets in as many T20Is in 2016, including a memorable 3 for 18 against India in the Asia Cup in February. He is part of the ongoing skills camp and is expected to feature in team that is likely to be announced later this week.
Azhar, who made his international debut in England in 2010 against Australia, was confident his team that the team, currently ranked No. 3 on the Test rankings, had the ability to do well on the tour. Pakistan last won a Test series in England against the hosts in 1996. More recently, however, they have been beaten England in the UAE by 3-0 (January 2012) and 2-0 (October 2015) margins.
"The England tour has always been challenging but the belief of doing good is important and we all have it," he said. "If you have belief, then it will help you practically in the field. In Test cricket, we have been doing well with a settled and confident side. Conditions might be difficult there but every player has an aim to do well in the conditions to make Pakistan win.
"The Pakistan team in the past has always been a competitive side. We either won or gave them tough competition. Previously in 2010, we had a very young side but this time we have experienced players both who were part of the tour that time, and some players who missed. So overall we have a good team to compete. Our bowling has always been good and England's batting had always appeared vulnerable against them, so the idea is to utilize the combination."
Pakistan could face some trouble with the opening slot after Hafeez suffered a knee injury last week. The selectors could look at Sami Aslam, Shan Masood and Khurram Manzoor to fill the slot, but Azhar, who has settled in at No. 3, has said he is ready to open in Hafeez's absence.
"Hopefully things move accordingly to the plan," he said. "A Test team has a settled order in which every player is consistent with his number. But in case anything happens then not only me but anyone is ready to play accordingly."
Pakistan will be training in Hampshire for almost a month before the Test series kicks off and are also scheduled to play tour matches, and Azhar believed this would give the team enough time to acclimatise to weather and pitch conditions.
"We have the commitment and belief that we can win there and that's the only thing the Pakistan nation should expect from us. We have trained hard and are even going to England well before the series starts, which will further help us adapt to the conditions.
"Every player is important but the team obviously is depending on senior players. However, if every player contributes according to his role then I don't see any reason Pakistan can't do better. Talent is there, the middle order is experienced, specially Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis [Khan] bhai, so I have full confidence that we can do well."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson