Azhar Mahmood adamant Pakistan ‘want more’ from Mohammad Amir

Updated 02 May 2018
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Azhar Mahmood adamant Pakistan ‘want more’ from Mohammad Amir

  • Amir was the youngest bowler to reach 50 Test wickets
  • Mahmood wants him to recapture that form on tour of England

CANTERBURY: Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood “wants more” from Mohammad Amir, a challenge he believes the paceman will rise to in upcoming Test matches against Ireland and England.
Amir was the hottest property in world cricket after bursting on the scene as a teenager in 2009.
He was soon earning comparisons with fellow Pakistan left-arm fast bowler Wasim Akram, with Wasim himself declaring Amir a better bowler than he had been at the same age.
At 18, Amir was the youngest bowler to have reached the landmark of 50 Test wickets.
His first 14 matches in the five-day game saw him take 51 wickets at just a fraction over 23 apiece — figures that had Amir on course to be an all-time great.
But Amir’s world was turned upside down in 2010 when he and Mohammad Asif became involved in a spot-fixing scandal after deliberately bowling no-balls during the Lord’s Test against England at the behest of then Pakistan captain Salman Butt.
In 2011 Amir was given a five-year ban by the International Cricket Council and sentenced to six months in jail by an English court.
Amir returned to international duty in 2016 but his 16 Tests since his comeback have yielded 44 wickets at a relatively expensive 37.25.
“We want more from Amir, as bowling coach I want more from Amir,” Mahmood told AFP after the paceman took one wicket for 45 runs in 15 overs during Pakistan’s drawn tour opener against Kent at Canterbury on Tuesday.
“If you see his record since he came back it’s not great, but he was coming back after five years out,” the former Pakistan all-rounder added. “He needs to take a bit more responsibility and get more wickets for us.
“If he’s the leader of this attack, he needs to show us a bit more.
“I’m sure he will do that and that’s what we want from him.”
Given his lengthy absence it is unsurprising that the now 26-year-old Amir has not quite scaled the heights he reached earlier in his career.
Nevertheless, there have been some memorable moments since his return, with Amir taking a superb three for 16 in six overs as Pakistan thrashed arch-rivals India by 180 runs in the final of last year’s Champions Trophy one-day tournament at The Oval.
Amir’s figures against Kent on a cool, if sunny, day were nothing like as spectacular.
This, however, was a warm-up match, with Pakistan next facing Northamptonshire before providing the opposition for Ireland’s inaugural Test and then returning to England for a two-Test series.
And one delivery from Amir, who served part of his prison sentence in Canterbury jail, stood out on Tuesday when he demolished the stumps of Alex Blake with a late-swinging yorker.
It certainly caught the admiring attention of Kent assistant coach Allan Donald, the former South Africa fast bowler.
“When I saw this kid a few years ago, he’s one of the most skilful that’s going around,” Donald said.
“When you saw him knocking over those ‘poles’ that’s exactly what you expect from him — so much skill, so much imagination and creativity to produce that sort of thing on flat pitches.”
He added: “When it gets flat, you have to think out of the box and to see that happening was an eye-opener.”
Meanwhile Donald predicted Pakistan, whose last Test series in England ended in a highly creditable 2-2 draw in 2016, would impress again this year.
“There are some seriously good players in this Pakistan team,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be a great series — I hope it warms up for them though.”


Saudi Arabia produce improved display but still exit World Cup

Updated 23 min 56 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia produce improved display but still exit World Cup

  • Luis Suarez wins Group A clash with goal after 23 minutes
  • Green Falcons go toe-to-toe with South Americans, but looked a bit toothless in attack

LONDON: It came too late to save Saudi Arabia’s World Cup hopes, but this was much more like it from the Green Falcons.
The record books will show that Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side are now without a win in 12 World Cup games and bowed out of this tournament with one game to spare, but this was a restorative afternoon in Rostov, a day when the Green Falcons put some pride back in the shirt.
The team received criticism from senior figures in the Kingdom after rolling over against Russia and they knew they needed to front up against Uruguay. Some of their international futures may have depended on it. The players did just that, mixing it with the two-time winners and showing that they did, after all, belong at this exalted level.
The big frustration for Pizzi will be that Uruguay did not have to work hard for their winning goal, recalled keeper Mohammed Al-Owais handing it to Luis Suarez on a plate with a piece of goalkeeping he will not look back on with any fondness. Suarez could not believe his luck that he was gift-wrapped a goal with which to mark his 100th international appearance. It undid such a promising start from the men in white.
The Green Falcons’ response to falling behind was impressive, though, full of intent and no little skill as they went toe to toe with the South American giants. They actually ended the first half with 57 percent of the possession and registered more attempts on target than their more vaunted opponents. This is what the Saudi Arabians packed into the muggy Rostov Stadium had come to see, their team giving their all and representing more than the sum of their parts. This was why the Green Falcons had finished ahead of Australia in qualifying.

For Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, he was left to rue a lack of fire-power up front against the Uruguyans.

Speaking to the media immediately after the game, Pizzi said: "We kept the ball well, we had the majority of the posession, but we just did not have the weapons needed up front to equalize.

"We played at a much better level than in the Russia game, and that is more our style of play, but we just did not have the right tools to break Uruguay down."

The problem of scoring goals at this lofty level remains — this was the ninth time in 11 finals games they had failed to score — but that is a long-standing issue that was never going to be solved overnight. Most importantly, Pizzi got the type of reaction he was looking for after a performance against the hosts he described as “shameful.” Pizzi shook things up by dropping Omar Hawsawi, Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, Abdullah Al-Mayoof and Yahya Al-Shehri, bringing in Al-Owais, Ali Hadi Al-Bulaihi, Hatan Bahbri and Fahad Al-Muwallad. The changes largely worked a treat, with Bahbri looking particularly lively cutting it from the right.
Saudi Arabia started brightly and on the front foot. They forced the first corner, won a free-kick on the edge of the Uruguay box and Al-Bulaihi showed more defensive resilience in blocking an early shot from Suarez than the Green Falcons did in the entire 90 minutes of the World Cup opener. You would not have known which team was ranked 14th and which was ranked 67th.
But the bright start was punctured just past the 20-minute mark. Al-Owais came to collect a corner but completely mis-judged the flight. He flapped at the ball with his left hand, got nowhere near it and that left Suarez with the simple task of slotting into an empty net with his left foot. It was the Barcelona man’s sixth goal in 10 World Cup games. He will not score an easier one.
It would have been easy for Saudi Arabia to fold like they did against Russia, but they showed they are made of sterner stuff than we first thought. Al-Muwallad shot over the bar from a tight angle, Bahbri forced a smart save from the Uruguay keeper and then the same player shot over at full stretch soon after. It was an encouraging response. Abdullah Otayf then left his mark soon after on Edison Cavani. Salem Al-Dawsari then clattered Matias Vecino. The Uruguayans knew they were in a game.
Saudi Arabia even recovered from the blow of losing key midfielder Taiseer Al-Jassam to injury before half-time, but Housain Al-Mogahwi came on and slotted in seamlessly. The most impressive thing about the performance was the control their midfield three enjoyed in the center of the field.
With their hopes of staying the tournament at stake, Pizzi might have thrown caution to the wind earlier than he did in the second half and throw on Al-Sahlawi, Al-Shehri or Muhannad Assiri. But he was just so worried about being opened up on the counterattack and risking another humiliation. With 15 minutes, he eventually opted for the height of Mohamed Kanno and the sharp-shooting of squad top-scorer Al-Sahlawi and asked his team to go more direct. They huffed and puffed but they just lacked the subtlety and muscle to breach a Uruguay defense marshalled by the wily Diego Godin. They will not be first to encounter that problem and certainly not the last.