London – Mohammad Amir will hope to put the 2010 spot-fixing scandal behind him once and for all when he returns to the scene of the crime in the first Test against England at Lord’s on Thursday.
Six years ago, during a Lord’s Test, Amir and Pakistan new-ball partner Mohammad Asif deliberately bowled no-balls on the instructions of captain Salman Butt as part of a sting operation carried out by a tabloid newspaper.
All three received five-year bans from cricket and, together with sports agent Mazhar Majeed, jail terms.
Such was the impact of the controversy, the fact teenage sensation Amir took six for 84 in the first innings of that match has largely been forgotten.
For all his time out of cricket, the 24-year-old retains the ability to swing the ball late at sharp pace, as he showed with a first-innings haul of three for 36 in Pakistan’s tour opener against Somerset.
Now Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq believes Amir can win back the trust of cricket fans with the sheer quality of his play.
“His mood is good,” said Misbah during a pre-match press conference at Lord’s on Wednesday.
“He’s just focusing on what he has to do in the ground,” added the veteran batsman, making his first Test tour of England at the advanced age of 42.
“He is really responding well to that and I hope it’s a big opportunity for him, and that he comes on to the field and performs for Pakistan, to win the people again.”
Amir is far from the only threat in a Pakistan bowling line-up also featuring fellow left-armer Wahab Riaz and leg-spinner Yasir Shah.
That means an England side missing the injured duo of all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson and all-rounder Ben Stokes, should not have things all their own way as they did in the preceding 2-0 home series win over Sri Lanka.
England captain Alastair Cook, who played in the infamous 2010 match, has long been an advocate of a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to fixing.
However, he has no qualms facing Amir again.
“I’ve said all along I don’t think match fixers should be allowed to play but at that time he was given his punishment,” said Cook.
“He’s served it, so he’s absolutely entitled to come back.”
Opening batsman Cook, England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer, added: “One thing not in question with Mohammad Amir is that he is a decent bowler.
“He does not get a wicket every time he bowls a ball, so we have to be careful not to build him up in our own minds — but we know how skilful he is.”
Pakistan have a strong middle order in Misbah, fellow veteran Younis Khan and the in-form Asad Shafiq.
But doubts persist over openers Mohammad Hafeez and Shan Masood, just as there are concerns as to whether Alex Hales, yet to score a Test hundred, is the right man to partner Cook at the top of England’s order.
The combative Riaz is looking to target Joe Root, now promoted to number three by England.
For Root, whose Yorkshire colleague Gary Ballance has been recalled at number five, that was just “trash talk”.
But Riaz said of Root: “He is the backbone of the England team and getting him out early will put the pressure on England.
“If he thinks it is just trash talk then hats off to him.”
England will give a debut to Nottinghamshire quick Jake Ball in Anderson’s absence and he is set to open the attack with county colleague Stuart Broad.
Anderson bowled in the nets at Lord’s but England have decided not to rush their prize asset back from a shoulder injury.
“Of course, there is always a temptation to take that gamble,” said Cook.
But with three more games to come in this series, including the second Test at Lancashire legend Anderson’s Old Trafford home ground a week on Friday, caution won out.
“The selectors have decided it’s too much of a risk to go for it,” Cook explained.