Six long years of life outside of international cricket and on the 14th of July 2016, it was finally time for Mohammed Amir to make his long- awaited return to the stage. It was a momentous Test at Lords, Amir was coming back to the place where his career was brought to an abrupt halt. The place where he broke the hearts of millions and brought Pakistan into their darkest hours. Except this time he was returning as a new man, a man who had been through the gates of hell and emerged the other side purged of his sins, a man who was playing his first Test match for the second time and this time he finished it in true cricketing spirit.
It was a momentous Test not only for Amir but for Pakistan. The scandal was Pakistani cricket’s 9/11. It was their darkest moment in sport and it crushed the hopes and dreams of fans everywhere. Pakistan and Amir had repented and this Test was the time to regain some of that lost belief and support from the 2010 scandal. It was the time to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. A time to rebuild from the depths of hell and by close of play on day 4, Pakistan had not only built a ladder back up, but had constructed their one world trade centre and shown the world that nothing would keep them down.
Pakistan, led by their captain Misbah Ul Haq, won the toss and elected to bat first. They never looked settled and wickets fell at regular intervals with Chris Woakes removing both the openers. Pakistan had beaten England in the UAE only last year but this was different. They were facing England, in England. Pakistan hadn’t played a bi-lateral series outside of Asia in three years, and they hadn’t played in England since 2010. At 3-77, the Pakistani captain, aged 42, strolled in to bat. Batting was never Pakistan’s strongsuit. Misbah had been the pillar that held them up for the past six years. He sweat and toiled and slowly kept the board ticking playing ball after ball after ball. He steadied the ship for a while before England’s veteran bowler Stuart Broad struck. Younis Khan fell and Pakistan were 134-4 but Misbah was still at the crease.
Asad Shafiq was the next man in at 6. He and the captain steered the visitors and put on a partnership of 148 runs. It was in this partnership that the Pakistani captain, who had never batted in a Test in England before, jogged through for a single to join the Lords honours board. Misbah had just become the sixth oldest man to score a century and the oldest captain to. He gestured to his team before saluting the Pakistani Army whom with the team had trained, by dropping down to do push-ups. It was a momentous occasion for the captain and he had gone and stolen Amir’s limelight for the day.
It was the Misbah show.
On day two however, wickets continued to tumble, Amir and Yasir Shah added a few but Pakistan were restricted to 339. Chris Woakes bowled superbly ending with a six wicket haul but it was time for England to bat and for Amir to make his real return. He was given the new ball. A second chance sat in his hand and he embraced it. This new man showed intent, he asked questions and he was floating on air. He bowled with the same zest and zeal as if the last six years hadn’t happened. Mohammed Amir was reborn. It wasn’t all a fairytale however. That first wicket refused to come. It eluded him as Mohammed Hafeez dropped a sitter, Cook was given a second reprieve off Amir’s bowling and it wasn’t until Yasir Shah had stolen the show that Amir finally got his man.
England struggled against the leg spinner. Alastair Cook and Joe Root were cruising until he was brought on and then England imploded. They had faced swing, bounce, pace and had survived but against Yasir they played rash shots. Apart from Cook and Root, it was only the bowler Chris Woakes who scored 30+. England who bat so deep could just not dig in against the leggie. Just like Pakistan, England were done the next morning before lunch only trailing by 67 runs.
Pakistan came back to bat with a small lead a hell of a lot of belief. England’s highest successful chase in the last decade at Lords was 282 against New Zealand in 2004 so they just needed get there. It seemed no one wanted to take the reins though. Hafeez decided to give the fielders some catching practice, and Woakes continued his good form. Not even the captain could stick around. Misbah went for his signature shot against Moeen Ali. For once in his career the ball did not stay hit and Alex Hales took a superb running catch in the deep. It was only a fifth wicket partnership of 69 between Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan and a personal best of 30 from Yasir that kept Pakistan in the game.
Stuart Broad picked off the final two wickets on the morning of day 4 within 15 minutes.
Pakistan had 283 to defend and England had two days to bat.
Amir started the fourth innings poorly with a short and wide ball that Cook smashed for four. The Pakistani bowlers struggled to keep their line and force errors. It only took one good ball though. One great ball. A beauty from Rahat Ali removed Cook and let the visitors breathe. Rahat continued to bowl superbly and England continued to bat poorly. Joe Root’s decision to go for a ball that there was no need to go for epitomised their whole innings. This was England’s middle order’s first real test. James Vince and Gary Ballance stuck around and played a few shots. The Pakistani bowling was becoming loose, the fielding was resembling the shambles of day one and England were slowly inching closer to their target.
Yasir Shah then switched ends. England were at 135-4 when he picked off the fifth wicket of Gary Ballance (much to the relief of Younis Khan who had dropped him already) and he was once again looking dangerous. In his next over, an irresponsible Moeen Ali having faced four balls swung for the ball as if he was opening the batting with England leading by 200 runs. Yasir clean bowled him and within 10 minutes Ali was walking back to the dressing room potentially for the last time.
It was Johnny Bairstow the in-form man and the bowling hero Woakes sitting at the crease with England six down. The runs dried up, England were no longer cruising. Yasir was bowling wicket to wicket and the seamers were bowling wide of off-stump. Misbah was forcing England to make the next move. Just as he had tried in the third innings to take on Ali, he was dangling the carrot for Bairstow and Woakes. Neither went for it, they continued to take the singles and the scoreboard kept ticking over. England still had a day to bat, they did not need to play the rash shots that the top order had played.
Then Wahab Riaz came back to bowl. It was one of those spells that cannot be written down on paper. A few runs came from it, no wickets came but it was magical. The energy at Lords changed completely. The tension could have been cut with a knife. Wahab almost had Woakes twice, he was getting reverse swing and hurling missiles at these two men. He almost had Woakes twice, he was almost banned from bowling in the rest of the match. Wahab Riaz had one of his magical spells that most bowlers could only dream of delivering. He shook England and the mistake finally came.
With less than 100 runs to get, Johnny Bairstow cracked. He steps back and Yasir bowls him. You could see the anguish on his face. It wasn’t one of Wahab’s magical balls but after 147 balls, he cracked.Two balls later, Amir smashes through Stuart Broad’s defences. There was no warning, no bouncer to throw him off. Pakistan meant business. They were there to finish it off. Yasir Shah took his 4th wicket of the innings and 10th in the game as he removed Woakes and in the end it was a fairy tale finish for Pakistan with Amir clean bowling Ball to win them the first Test by 75 runs and celebrates as he did six years ago with his arms spread wide running across the pitch.
Pakistan ended the Test together. Misbah had lead them out from their darkest hours and with a salute to the army and they drop down to do push ups. As a team.