Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur termed Mohammad Amir‘s decision to retire from Test cricket “unsurprising”, saying the bowler had been thinking about it for over a year. Arthur revealed the management had tried to ease Amir’s workload over the past year, and experimented with the possibility of making him an overseas-only bowler. Ultimately, however, Arthur said he respected Amir’s decision, and hoped it would give Pakistan a “rejuvenated” limited-overs bowler.
“It was on the cards for a long while,” Arthur told ESPNcricinfo. “Amir had been speaking to me about it with me for some time now. His Test career was taking a strain on his body. It’s not about management here. It’s about his desire to play Test cricket and the effects it has on his body. I think Amir’s an unbelievable bowler and reluctantly I accepted his decision because that’s what he wanted to do and that’s what he thought was best for himself. What it does do is give us a white-ball bowler that I think we can get a longer period from.”
ESPNcricinfo understands several people behind the scenes involved with Pakistan cricket had attempted to talk Amir out of the Test retirement, and offered up the possibility of reduced workloads, or games in conditions that were more conducive to his strengths. It was part of the reason the Pakistan selection panel managed him the way they did over the past home season, with the bowler sitting out the five Tests in the UAE before coming back into the fold for the three-match Test series against South Africa.
Amir has only played four Tests in the UAE, Pakistan’s home for his entire career. Strong as they have been in the desert, however, Pakistan ended up on the losing side in three of those four games, representing over a third of all Test losses in the UAE over this period. The case could be made that not playing him in the UAE was as much a dropping as it was diligent management.
Arthur, too, was emphatic Amir could have been used in Test cricket like that over the long run. “Of course there was [a possibility Amir would only play away]”, Arthur said. “We managed him through the South African series. He didn’t play any Test cricket during the UAE last year. That was part of his management, and we started putting that in place because we wanted him for the South African series.”
Arthur even acknowledged he would have “loved for Amir to stay on”, but conceded the fast bowler’s “mind and body weren’t in the format anymore”. In an interview with ESPNcricinfo, Amir had suggested he might cut back on Tests as early as last year, but Arthur believed the real damage had been done when he was banned for five years for spot-fixing in 2010. In that period, by Amir’s own admission, he didn’t prepare himself for returning to international cricket, which meant he was ill-equipped for the workload that would be thrown his way after five years of indolence.
“He had five years out of the game, we mustn’t forget that. In those five years, he didn’t do anything. His body was not up to the rigours of day in, day out Test cricket. We pushed him as much as we could during the England and South Africa series, because he is such a good bowler whom we wanted during those tours. We’ve tried everything we possibly could with Amir.
“He could have managed those five years better. He’d be the first one to acknowledge that. But I understand where he was in his whole life, so it was a tough period for him. I understand all that. I’ve got a very soft spot for Mohammad Amir. As a person and as a cricketer, I admire him greatly. Yes, I am disappointed he won’t be playing Test cricket for us. But it was made in the best interests of his white-ball cricket in mind.”
Amir had been fading in limited-overs cricket since the 2017 Champions Trophy, having gone 13 consecutive ODIs without a wicket in the first Powerplay. But his reputation saw him sneak into the World Cup squad at the last minute, and there, he was a different cricketer once more, finishing as the most prolific Pakistan bowler at the tournament with 17 wickets, which only six bowlers bettered. It is that big-match temperament that has Arthur licking his lips.
“We get a white-ball bowler who’s going to be rejuvenated, refreshed, and with a T20 World Cup just around the corner, in 18 months’ time we’ve got a potential match-winner because we know he performs on the big stage. Like every other player who plays for Pakistan, he’s going to need to put in match-winning performances. But he’ll certainly get the opportunity to do that, and he will start in our white-ball cricket.”
Arthur wouldn’t be drawn on where Amir placed in the storied pantheon of great Pakistani fast bowlers, going down the route of wistfulness instead.
“The Amir hype all those years ago was justified because he is a quality bowler. When the ball swings there’s not much better. But he’s not the bowler now that he was in 2009 and 2010. He was different, his body was different. Making a connection between the bowler now and then would be wrong. But had he not had those five years out of the game, I think he would be up there with the very best Pakistan have ever had.”