Amir, Lahore's homecoming king

In his first international match in Pakistan, Mohammad Amir ensured the fans had plenty of reasons to cheer

Getty Images

Getty Images

Something always came up. As far as Mohammad Amir was concerned, there was always some reason that prevented him from playing an international game in Pakistan. He made his debut in June 2009, three months after the attack on Sri Lanka's team bus that began Pakistan's international isolation. Six years later, when Zimbabwe became the first team to visit for two T20s and three ODIs, he was still serving the last three months of his five-year ban. And when an ICC-sanctioned World XI turned up in Lahore last month, Amir found himself in England with his wife, who was expecting their first child.
On Sunday, too, no one expected Amir to take the field in the third T20I. A shin injury, that had hampered him since the first day of the second Test against Sri Lanka, had kept him out of Pakistan's limited-overs games in the UAE. For Amir, though, it seemed a chance was finally here.
Usman Khan was injured, and as both teams began their training sessions ahead of the game, a familiar figure appeared to be running with the Pakistan side. It's a little difficult from the Gaddafi Stadium's media centre to clearly identify players' faces on the ground, but Amir's bowling action is his ID. He sprinted in, charging towards one of the practice pitches, before that neat little hop and skip just as he entered his delivery stride. The right arm came across in that aggressively front-on action, before the ball flew towards the batting crease. It hit the base of the only stump at the other end, knocking it out of the ground. Yep, definitely Amir.
Even then, he had to wait until the second innings for the chance to bowl in front of a home crowd that had been raving about him for eight years without ever really getting to see him in the flesh. It was an occasion for the fans. They had delighted in his success since he burst onto the international scene as a boy with a tousled mop of hair that fell around his eyes. The bowler in front of them was different - a young man with a thin beard and short hair. He had a wife and a child now, and the demeanour of a typical professional athlete had replaced the amateur rawness that had caught the country's initial adoring attention. The action, however, was the same.
When Amir stood at the top of his run-up, surveying the batsman as if he were prey and plotting how to make him so, he seemed to return, for one last time, to that boy in 2009. He has seen more than perhaps he would have wanted in the last eight years, but this was still a fresh experience for him.
It took him all of two balls to get the Lahore crowd on its feet. He did what he had done countless times before, angling the ball across from over the wicket to the right-hander, before it swung back in at pace, threatening everything: the stumps, the inside and outside edges, the pads. Openers better than Dilshan Munaweera have found Amir impossible to handle, and this was a particularly special delivery. Munaweera was hopelessly late in an unconvincing attempt at a cut shot; the stump had already been rocked back, and the bails lay on the turf behind him.
Amir returned in the final overs to clean up the lower middle order and tail, one of the wickets, of Chaturanga de Silva, a magnificent yorker that cannoned into the leg stump. In the final over he had an opportunity at a five-for, getting three balls at the number 11 batsman. He didn't quite manage that, but 4-13 was still a career-best haul. He had saved his best T20 performance for Lahore.
The crowd dispersed after the game, nodding their heads in approval and admiration, having assured themselves that the boy they had been seeing on TV all these years was indeed the real deal.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000