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Memory of Amir clouds the new reality

The world has waited for the spells of 2010 from Mohammad Amir but - for a host of reasons - they have failed to really materialise. However, all is not lost

Mohammad Amir was left with one wicket - and an injury - to show for his efforts, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Dubai, 1st day, October 6, 2017

Mohammad Amir was left with one wicket - and an injury - to show for his efforts  •  AFP

The memory - why do you exist? To torment? To trap? To tease? To distort? To colour today and inflate tomorrow?
What is it that you remember most? Likely it is something from the first career. That over to Tilakaratne Dilshan, with enough energy in it to big bang a universe into being. Maybe the banana that bowled Mitchell Johnson, a dismissal that, aesthetically, is perfect. The double dismissal of Shane Watson was his favourite, the umpire's finger going up to confirm the lbw appeal before, somehow, he was also bowled. The spell of reverse in Melbourne - left arm, reversing at the MCG? It's like he was daring you to not remember that. That crazy five-wicket over in St Lucia, in which he took three?
Mohammad Amir, is this really you?
Don't get me wrong. There have been occasions when this Amir has been that Amir. The Asia Cup spell against India, or its longer, more fulfilling offspring at The Oval in June; a few byte-sized spells in side games, or county matches enhanced by GIF-dom; and he did also pick up his career-best Test figures at Kingston in April. These are legitimate bursts of quality fast bowling, fit to include in the early Amir collection.
But the overwhelming sense from this Amir has been of a man standing on the edge of a cliff and leaning. And leaning further, but neither falling down or bringing out the wings and taking off. Frustration is too narrow an emotion; add to it at the very least the endless and continuing anticipation that now, or now, or, no, really, this time, he will burst through this wall of non-wicket-taking and be the Amir that was promised, for instance, during the first half of Friday, August 27, 2010, when he ripped through England. That was swing bowling.
Until he picked up Sadeera Samarawickrama on the first evening of this second Test, he had gone 64.3 overs without a Test wicket. Three-hundred and eighty-seven deliveries. That is more than entire careers. And it isn't an anomalous stretch. Since his return to international cricket in January 2016, among opening bowlers, he stands second from bottom (among bowlers with at least ten wickets) in terms of strike rate. The only man below him - Pakistanis will love this - is Ishant Sharma. Above him are men such as Alzarri Joseph, Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep. With all due respect, and all that.
How?
We mustn't forget the drops, 14 of them (in Tests alone) now after the latest spill in Abu Dhabi last week. Count them as wickets and, by the end of the first evening, he would still only be 24th on the list. He walked off tonight, his final over of the evening incomplete because of a shin problem, head down, tired, a solitary wicket in the series, as if aware of such stats, exhausted perhaps by the thought of them, pulled down by all the drops and the injustice.
For it is not that he has bowled badly. He has bowled good spells, and it is still amazing how, after a five-year absence, he is able to bowl the spells, and as much of them, as he does at all. Maybe it's the drops colouring the whole idea of his lucklessness, but after some spells, you're left with the impression that he beats the bat more than other bowlers. It probably doesn't stand to analytical scrutiny, and neither does it ultimately mean much but it is becoming his story.
What about the spells he should be bowling, the spells memory dictates he should?
In Dubai he began well. A little later he was striving too much and went for runs. Then he disappeared. Then he came back and took a wicket. Then he disappeared. Then he came back with the second new ball. Then he went off. He was short when he needed to be full. He was full when he could've been pulling it back a bit. But listen, it is hot, ridiculously hot, and these pitches are not hot at all and, with no atmosphere to speak of, it can all get debilitating.
Azhar Mahmood, the bowling coach, provided a useful diagnosis later, not just of Amir's work this evening or this series, but actually since his return. "He's a wicket-taker and we work on that," he said.
"Unfortunately when you play three formats, too much one-day cricket, your length is slightly shorter. If you see guys playing just Tests - their length is slightly different, like [Vernon] Philander, they are fuller. But the guys who play all three, their lengths are slightly on shorter side.
"I want him to bowl fuller with the new ball especially - when he bowls fuller he is more threatening."
That is a thing. You remember how it used to be with Amir? Curves is what it was, not these straight lines and angles. It could be said that he was a dreamer as a bowler, an idealist - throw it up there and what's the worst that could happen? A boundary? How's that a price when the best result is batsmen at your feet and the world in your hands? Those dreams are gone, and only pragmatism remains.
Dismiss it as hokum, it's fine. Focus on real things. People talk of his wrist not being right all the time. Or that he doesn't get as close to the stumps as he used to. Rumours snake around that he's thinking of giving up the longer format, rumours he has denied. But they're rumours. They're not around without reason and they won't go away easily.
It could be just memory grifting us - alas it exists, above all, to be questioned - into remembering him forever as Amir, interrupted. We remember that English summer, and how rich it was with potential. But we forget that for whatever reason, the ball swung big enough that summer, for everyone, for it to be unusual. And that before then, in between all the memories, Amir was a young kid, still learning how to bowl and that there were stretches where he was merely ok. And it's not as if he had a chance to learn much more while he was banned, when let alone bowl competitively, he couldn't even train and learn among professional cricketers or coaches. If he wasn't fully formed when he left as a bowler, how can he be now, not two years back into competitive cricket?
And then maybe - and this isn't a thought as devoid of hope as it may come across - we'll understand that he isn't the bowler of that memory but instead a bowler we are still in the process of discovering.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo