Six years on from a tour that continues to be remembered for all the wrong reasons, Pakistan’s cricket team will return to the home of English cricket on Thursday for what promises to be a first Test full of intrigue and tension. And there is no question which individual, regardless of how he actually performs at Lord’s in the first of a four-match series, will be the center of attention.
The script could not have been written any more tantalizingly. It was in 2010 that Mohammad Amir, along with two teammates, was found guilty of spot-fixing, in this case bowling no balls at agreed times of an over, during the fourth Test between Pakistan at England at Lord’s. Amir was later jailed for six months and banned from cricket five years. Now, in what will be his first Test match since that fateful day, he will return to the scene of his crime.
While Amir has featured in one-day internationals and the World Twenty 20 since his comeback, his return to Lord’s has brought the debate over whether he should have been given a second chance back into sharp focus. His first spell of bowling, at the very least, will be testing for the 24-year-old, with jeers from at least some of those fans in attendance all-but guaranteed.
England captain Alastair Cook has even warned Amir to expect some abuse, but he is now eager to move onto talking about cricket.
“I’ve said all along that he’s served his time, he was punished for what he did in 2010 and when you do that, the consequences that go with it, he’s dealt with it,” he said. “I’ve said I don’t think match fixers should be allowed to play but at the time he was given his punishment, he’s served it so he’s entitled to come back. He’s served his time. I just hope we can concentrate on the cricket now.”
While Amir also faced some hostility from his own teammates upon his return, he now looks to have won them around. And bowler Wahab Riaz believes Amir can soon get people talking about his bowling again.
“I think he will deal with all those things,” Riaz said. “He is ready to answer with his performance – and that is what counts. I want him to take five wickets in this Test match to get his name back and to get his image back which has been spoilt. If you make a mistake it doesn't mean that you are out of [excluded from] this world.”
Riaz himself was involved in some of the controversy between the sides in 2010, when he and then England batsman Jonathan Trott had to be separated in the nets during the ODI series.
As for the action on the field this time around, England will hand a debut to Jake Ball with the world’s No. 1 Test bowler James Anderson missing out with a shoulder injury. England has also reshuffled its batting order, with Gary Balance coming back into the side for the first time in a year and slotting in at number five, meaning Joe Root moves up to three.
As well as Amir, Pakistan is also set to hand a return to spinner Yassir Shah in what will be his first international outing since serving a three-month doping ban.
England vs. Pakistan 1st Test Schedule
Thursday, July 14 – Monday July 18 (play begins at 6 a.m. EDT each day)
Live streaming: ESPN3 will have live coverage of every ball of the Test match.