Mohammad Amir will don whites for Sui Southern Gas Corporation (SSGC) from the second week of October in his bid to regain the bite in his bowling. The left-arm pacer has been unable to thump his authority like he was expected to after returning to international cricket. He has shown glimpses of the pre-2010 Amir, but that venomous swing and scorching pace have not been a regular feature of his bowling.
That's something Atiq uz Zaman, head coach at SSGC, is looking to work on when the 26-year-old joins the side on October 7. "Amir has lost his swing and we are looking to work on it," Atiq, who also worked with Amir in 2015 prior to his international return, told Cricbuzz on Sunday. "We have Kabir Khan, one of the finest of his time, as a bowling coach with us. We will sit with Amir and work on his wrist position, his usage of the crease, and other technical aspects of the game. We are in a process of devising a complete plan for him and have had discussions about what needs to be done."
Though Amir has averaged 33 and 36 in Test and ODI cricket since his return, the left-arm pacer came under scrutiny during the recently concluded Asia Cup for failing to take a wicket in the 18 overs he bowled across three matches. Once considered as irreplaceable, Amir was dropped for Pakistan's contests against Afghanistan and Bangladesh, latter being a virtual semi-final. His wicket drought began in Zimbabwe where he remained wicketless in the last two ODIs. This year he has averaged 100.66 with the ball in ODIs, taking only three wickets.
"When a bowler is not picking up a wicket, his stress starts building up and it gets to a point where he starts to doubt his ability," Atiq said, adding that taking a break from international cricket and the pressure of playing at the apex level will help Amir find his rhythm. "His confidence has been shaken. Playing first-class cricket, Amir will not have that sort of pressure on him to win us matches. We will tell him to enjoy his cricket, allowing him the room to express himself. Amir is keen to return to domestic cricket. In fact, he was the one who reached out to us to express his desire to return to SSGC for the ongoing season."
One of the major challenges for Atiq would be to manage his workload. Since his return to international cricket on January 15, 2016, Amir has sent down 1023 overs across all formats - of course, the most for Pakistan. With 348 balls less, Yasir Shah is on the second spot. Naturally, the pacer has been on a search for rest. He is also said to have approached the management to cut down his Test cricket to prolong his international career. Atiq had advised him to leave Test cricket altogether due to the harsh conditions in the UAE, Pakistan's adopted home, where they play their home cricket.
"I had called against Amir's inclusion in the national team after just playing the qualifying round of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy [Pakistan's premier first-class tournament]," Atiq replied when asked how he planned to give the bowler the desired rest. "He used to get fatigued after a match." The need for more matches prior to his return to international cricket is something that Amir had also admitted in an interview before the Asia Cup.
For the second consecutive year, Pakistan Cricket Board announced a backbreaking domestic schedule. Like always, they tinkered with it this time, which is just a little bit but enough to send shivers down the spines of fitness and strength conditioning coaches across Pakistan. Now, teams have to play a four-day and a one-day match in a round which stretches over six days. After a gap of two days, in which the teams have to travel to their next destination and rest, the four-day match of the next round begins. Initially, there was only a day's gap between the rounds. PCB chairman Ehsan Mani intervened in the scheduling and asked the domestic cricket department for the inclusion of another day's rest.
"It is cruel on the players," Atiq lamented. "We have been saying this but the administrators don't pay any heed to us. We are fielding different bowling units for the first-class and list-A games. We plan to do the same with Amir. We will play him in four-day matches initially. Then rest him for a first-class game so he can play white-ball cricket. We need to get him back where he was in the white-ball cricket because that is where he can be the most effective for Pakistan."