England v Pakistan First Test Betting: If the old Amir turns up England could be vulnerable

Mohammad Amir
Still dangerous . . . Mohammad Amir celebrates his 100th Test wicket against Ireland
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England are massive odds-on to end their run of seven Tests without a victory when they face Pakistan at Lords this week, but Ralph Ellis sees reasons why it might not be so simple...

"Joe Root’s team are [1.52] in the Match Odds but if there’s even a hint of cloud cover and the old Amir turns up then you’d be a mug to back them at such short odds."

England v Pakistan
Thursday, 11:00
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In theory, the punishment dished out to Mohammad Amir for his involvement in the spot-fixing scandals at Lord's in 2010 had defined limits. Once he'd done his time, he would be free to move on.

He served three months of a six-month jail sentence, given parole to reward his good behaviour. And he got through his five-year ban from all forms of cricket and returned to the game still a young man.

In practice, it's hard to escape the impression that Amir, now aged 26, is still suffering from getting dragged into the nefarious schemes of his older but very definitely not wiser team mates at the time.

When he was at his peak in that series, when he reduced England's batting to rubble with a devastating spell of swing bowling at Lord's, he was a force of nature. Lithe, languid, a silky smooth run-up followed by a flowing bowling action and the ability to swing the ball in either direction.

Had he carried on playing he would by now have built his strength and stamina and developed into one of the world's most feared bowlers.

Persistent knee injury

Instead five years when all he could do was train, when he never had the chance to keep his body honed through the rigours of competitive cricket, has taken a toll. Since he has returned he's struggled to cope with getting back to those stresses and strains.

Amir returns to the scene of both his crimes and his greatest cricketing moments when England play Pakistan in the first Test at Lord's on Thursday. And how fit he is will be crucial to the way the match plays out.

Joe Root's team are [1.52] in the Match Odds but if there's even a hint of cloud cover and the old Amir turns up then you'd be a mug to back them at such short odds. But that's the big question - can the brilliance of the old Amir be turned back on at a moment's notice?

He is expected to be fit to play, having limped out of the Test in Ireland when a persistent knee problem flared up. While he missed the final warm-up match against Leicestershire he did bowl at good pace on the outfield during the lunch break to confirm his readiness for Lord's.

And Mickey Arthur, the South African who has so brilliantly taken on the challenge of giving Pakistan cricket new direction since his appointment in 2016, has insisted he's seen signs of Amir returning to his best.

Has he been over worked?

The problem he's faced, however, is the weight of expectation since his comeback. Everybody remembers the sublime youthful talent, but maybe Pakistan have looked too hard to find it. Since his return to the sport Amir has bowled more international overs in all forms of the game than any other Pakistan bowler, yet was his body really ready to take on that load after such a prolonged absence?

If he can rediscover that ability to swing the ball at 90mph, then you wouldn't fancy England's batting line-up. Just think what Trent Boult did to them in New Zealand in the winter, skittling them to all out for just 58 by pitching it up.

Pakistan also have Rahat Ali, who took four wickets when they won at Lord's four years ago and got swing in this year's warm-up games, plus the intriguing leg spin of 19-year-old Shadab Khan which could be dangerous.

But it is Amir who holds the key. Can he wind the clock back to Lord's in 2010? Or will his punishment prove to have been a life sentence?

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