In an interview with PakPassion.net's Saj Sadiq (for Sky Sports Cricket), Pakistan seamer Mohammad Amir explains how he has matured as a player and person since the spot-fixing scandal, how he has no plans to quit Test cricket, his desire to become a fully-fledged all-rounder, his spell in the Champions Trophy final against India and the future of Pakistan cricket.
By Saj Sadiq (25th July, 2017)
Recently there were some rumours that you were contemplating retiring from Test cricket. Can you clarify this?
MOHAMMAD AMIR: I have no idea what the thinking was behind this ridiculous story. I'm fit, strong and healthy and have no intentions of quitting any format. What I had said was that as a cricketer you have to take care of your body and look after your fitness levels and someone altered that statement and quoted me as saying that I wanted to quit playing Test cricket. It's totally untrue and as long as I am fit I want to play in all formats.
You've been playing almost continuously since your return to cricket. How is the body holding up? It must be tempting to take a rest every now and then?
A: No I am fine, I feel okay. There is no doubt that when I returned from my ban I did struggle a bit regarding my fitness which was to be expected, but day by day I'm feeling stronger and am now in better shape.
You lost five years of your cricket career, it must feel like you have to make up for lost time?
A: I was banned when I feel I was at my peak and anyone in my shoes would feel the same way I did and would also have gone through the whole range of emotions that I did. However, now that I am back, I can only look forward and not think too much about the past. As a fast bowler if you are out of the game for five months then that can be catastrophic, but to be out of the game for five years was very tough and to make a comeback after such a lengthy period with no cricket behind me was a difficult ask. But who knows, maybe being out of the game for five years was somehow a good thing and a blessing for me, in that I could have been seriously injured if I was playing continuously at such a young age.
How do you feel now about the events of 2010? Was it a bad memory or a lesson learnt for you and for upcoming cricketers?
A: That was a very tough time in my life and I learnt a lot of harsh lessons that I will never forget. I will always maintain that any young cricketer can learn a lot from what happened to me. But dedication, honesty and hard-work will always prevail. I had the passion to come back and that is what got me through those dark days. I will continue to convey the message to all young cricketers, in fact to all cricketers, to stay on the right path, stay honest, be dedicated and do not look for short cuts to success.
Pakistani cricket fans are very demanding and a ruthless bunch. How do you cope with the pressure of such high expectations?
A: Yes it's true that Pakistani fans are very demanding, in fact I would say that fans of all Asian teams are very demanding regarding their respective team. They expect their team to win every game and never lose, but as a professional I have to manage these expectations and to not let these expectations to affect my performance. Of course, I am going to be honest and say yes pressure does affect me sometimes, as it does everyone.
As one of the main players in the team you are expected to perform in every match and deliver, but the best players and the most successful players are those who handle that pressure and cope with it. They are able to absorb that kind of pressure and perform well. The expectations are something I will have to live with and have had to live with, and they actually motivate me to do better rather than cause me any problems or concerns.
Is your outlook on life and cricket any different these days than it was at the start of your career?
A: I feel that I am more mature now both on and off the field. I came into cricket at a very young age having come through the ranks very quickly from domestic cricket. Things happened so quickly, one minute I was playing club cricket, then domestic cricket, then for Pakistan A and suddenly I was playing for my country against the best players in the world. I think the more cricket you play, the more you will learn about yourself and learn about life in general. The more you travel around the world, the more you educate yourself and learn about people and cultures then that can only be a good thing. I also think that what has happened in the past to me has made me a more mature and humble person and I think I am a well-rounded man now who is more aware of his surroundings.
How do you think cricket has changed while you were ineligible to play?
A: I think cricket changed a lot during my ban. It became faster-paced and with the rise of the Twenty20 format it meant that cricketers had to be quick-thinkers and more flexible when it came to their approach. The lack of swing around the world is also a huge change. Pace bowlers are struggling to swing the new ball and the old ball, perhaps due to the type of cricket balls being used these days. In addition wickets have become so batsmen-friendly that it's really tough for pace bowlers to challenge batsmen and that is why games have become so high scoring. There's a lot more cricket being played also nowadays and less time to recover, however the basics will always stay the same. When I came back I had to adjust, I had to make changes to my game but the basic ethic of hard work has remained.
Is it fair to say that you have underachieved with the bat during your career so far and have only shown glimpses of your potential, such as against Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy?
A: I've been putting in a lot of time and effort regarding my batting with Grant Flower. He has always maintained that I can become a genuine all-rounder and I believe that also. I think that the signs are there that my batting is improving, for example in the final Test against West Indies where Yasir Shah and I shared a good partnership and of course the important partnership with Sarfraz Ahmed against Sri Lanka. I know I have to show more dedication to my batting and show more consistency with the bat. The effort and hard work is there and I'm confident that the results of this hard work will bear fruit in the future.
That opening spell by you at the Champions Trophy was the stuff dreams are made of. What motivated you to bowl like that?
A: It was a final, it was against India and it was a do-or-die situation. I thought to myself, what will be, will be, just go out there and give it your all today. I said to myself, whatever you have got in you just give everything for your country and don't hold back. I knew that if I could take a few quick wickets early in the Indian innings the match was all but over. I had it in my mind to go out there and give my all with the ball and blow away the Indian top order. I said to myself that this could be one of the best moments of my life and that is exactly what happened.
Put aside the political correctness, that must have been a pleasant experience to dismiss Rohit Sharma in the Champions Trophy final after what he said about your bowling?
A: That was his opinion about me and he is entitled to that opinion. Maybe his opinion about me has now changed. But let's get one thing clear, I would never call him an ordinary batsman in fact I would call him an extraordinary batsman. His record for India is superb and I respect him. His opinions about other cricketers are up to him, but with all due respect I never worry about what other cricketers have to say about me.
It's not my concern at all and I just concentrate on my performances and what I am doing for my team. If I worried about other people's opinions of me that would just cause me stress and that is why I avoid it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, whether it's labelling a cricketer world-class or ordinary; it is up to that individual.
What went through your mind when Azhar Ali dropped Virat Kohli in the final?
A: You have to be aggressive as a fast bowler. The greatest bowlers have always had that fire in their belly and I am no different. Naturally, I was angry and upset when the catch was dropped and I immediately thought, 'Oh No', we could now lose this match as Kohli is such a great batsman and match-winner and he could make us pay for such a mistake. However I was relieved and all smiles when the very next ball I got rid of him.
The Champions Trophy win was celebrated in great fashion in Pakistan and the players were treated as heroes. Was it disappointing to miss out on those celebrations?
A: Yes, it's fair to say that I missed the celebrations which looked like fun, but at the end of the day chances to play County Cricket do not materialise very often and it was a great opportunity for me and one I did not want to turn down. The most important thing to realise is that I am a cricketer and such celebrations like those only happen if you are performing and doing well as a player. I missed the celebrations but what is more important is that I am playing cricket in an environment where I feel that I can learn and improve and that is far more important to me than celebrations.
There's a youthful and exciting look about the various Pakistan teams at the moment. It must be an exciting time to be a part of these squads?
A: To win the Champions Trophy with the top eight teams playing in that tournament has been a huge lift for the nation of Pakistan, the cricketers and the fans. It was a much-needed boost and we showed the world that Pakistani cricketers have quality and skills. But again it requires patience. Expectations have to be realistic as this is a young group of players.
The likes of Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali and Rumman Raees are all new to international cricket but the signs and promise they have shown already is brilliant. The more cricket these youngsters will play, the better they will get and that can only benefit Pakistan cricket in the coming years. The current group of players has ability across all formats and I believe we can only get better.
Kohli has been very complimentary of you - that must be very heartening?
A: Absolutely. He's a big name and he is currently the best batsman in the world. Whenever we meet we always greet each other with respect. There is a bond and a friendship between us, a mutual respect and we are always pleased to see each other. He has given me a cricket bat as a gift on a couple of occasions, the most recent being at the Champions Trophy match in Birmingham. I think this sort of bond and friendship should be prevalent amongst all sportsmen of all nations. We are role-models and we can bridge differences and bring people closer together.
There were calls for you to receive a life ban, some said you should never be allowed to play cricket again. Do you feel that you have now won over those critics?
A: The best way to change opinions about you as a sportsman is by performing well. My focus is on being a good ambassador for my country on and off the field. I am aware that I cannot please everyone, but I sincerely feel that many people have changed their minds about me and I am grateful to them for that. I will continue to do my best for my country and I hope to win more of my critics over in the future with my performances.
There are many people that feel you will never be the same bowler due to the lengthy ban. Has the comeback been more difficult than you had imagined?
A: I was not under any false impressions that my comeback would be easy and that I would hit the ground running. I think in this situation it's harder for a fast bowler to make a comeback after such a lengthy time away from the game than it would be for a batsman. I never touched a cricket ball during my ban yet people expected me to come back to international cricket and make an instant impact. That was an impossible task and yet critics were writing me off straight after my comeback. It's been about 18 months since my comeback and I think I am now showing the results of the hard work that I have put in.
People need to be patient and I had to be patient, too, as these things take time. I'm not a magician who could have just started to take five wickets in every innings as soon as I came back and hopefully people can now see that I am returning to my best once again. I feel that my rhythm is back and I feel that it's important for me to play as much four-day and Test cricket as possible in order to find my best form. The more cricket I play, the more confident I feel and the more improvements will be visible. Demands will always be high and expectations high, but patience is also important and it takes time to get back to your best.
Your past is well-documented, but what do you want the future to hold for you?
A: Look, nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, never mind what the next year or two will bring, so I believe there is no point in making big plans too far into the future. I'm in a good place at the moment, I'm enjoying my cricket and I have just won an ICC tournament with Pakistan so things could not be better. I'm in the middle of a very enjoyable stint at Essex and County Cricket is something that I have always wanted to experience. At the moment I just want to keep working hard on my fitness, play as much cricket as I can around the world and to keep on improving in all areas of the game. I set myself short-term goals and steadily those goals are being achieved which is really pleasing for me.