The only discernible difference was the absence of a mop of jet-black hair.
Mohammad Amir marked out his run, a wine-dark Duke cricket ball in his hand, and off he sped as rhythmically as six years ago when his dismantling of England’s upper order at Lord’s was rapidly overtaken by more sinister events.
Amir took three wickets on his return to English soil and he did so with the sort of deliveries that will have batsmen sweating in front of their ubiquitous laptops, three beauties which served as a reminder of his special talent. Amir can swing the ball at pace and he has a nose for wickets.
It is very good news for the game that Amir is back in the fold although one or two of England’s batsmen may take a different view before the series is out. He prompts memories of Wasim Akram as he scuttles through the crease, bowling over and around the wicket with equal facility.
Amir’s day did not begin so auspiciously. He came to the crease after the dismissal of Younis Khan for 104. In came Josh Davey and that first delivery thudded into Amir’s right pad. There was an immediate and convincing lbw shout until the outstretched arm of umpire Billy Taylor was sighted. So here was Amir saved, rather than condemned, by a no-ball. But it was not for long. He wafted at the next delivery and was caught behind.
Soon he was marking out his run and the PA man announced his name to a sparse crowd. There was a discernible ripple of warm applause (what else is expected at Taunton?) and off he set.
Marcus Trescothick glided two boundaries down to third man in Amir’s first over but in his third Somerset’s old talisman was marching briskly back to the pavilion.
There was no disgrace in Trescothick’s dismissal. A perfect, rapid away-swinger found the edge of the bat and ended up in the safe haven of Sarfraz Ahmed’s gloves. Amir’s arms were outstretched in a characteristic celebration that could well become a feature of the summer. Soon he switched to around the wicket in the manner of Akram and the ball darted into Adam Hose, who lost his off-stump.
Amir’s third wicket came in his second spell after lunch when he bowled Somerset’s acting captain, Peter Trego, with a perfect in-swinger. The ball zoomed through a swinging gate; the stump headed towards the River Tone and Trego felt no need to look over his shoulder to examine the carnage. He left the field unabashed in the knowledge that the ball was simply too good for him.
There would no third spell for Amir because of the frailty of Somerset’s batting, which subsided inside 35 overs. But here was sufficient evidence that he might be Pakistan’s man of the series for a second time in England. The magic is still there and he looks ferociously determined to rebuild his career.
The other Pakistan bowlers enjoyed themselves, too. The long, lean Sohail Khan looks well equipped to exploit “English” conditions. Rahat Ali, a more lumbering left-armer than Amir, was on target and Yasir Shah’s fizzer soon accounted for two novice tail-enders.
As ever Pakistan appear to have a set of bowlers, who are instinctive aggressors – remember Wahab Riaz and another Imran Khan are in the wings. However they lack all-rounders so the likelihood is that they will end up at Lord’s with only four bowlers in their side, which might be a problem given how benign the pitch can be there.
Not that the Somerset batsmen tested the stamina of the Pakistan bowlers. Only James Hildreth offered skilful resistance. In fact he deserved better from his colleagues. He is having another very fine season to the extent that he must be worth a mention whenever selectors meet. But who will remember an unbeaten 47, however polished, especially on a day when Amir, by his bowling alone, eloquently announced that he is back?
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