Essex 32 for 1 trail Kent 226 (Bell-Drummond 55, Podmore 54*, S.Cook 5 for 42, Amir 4 for 48) by 194 runs
“Babe, I love you so
I want you to know
That I’m going to miss your love
The minute you walk out that door.”
KC The Sunshine Band’s “Please Don’t Go” may not be everyone’s obvious earworm on an infuriatingly showery day that permitted only 43.2 overs to be bowled at Canterbury, but today was a little different. In all likelihood today was the penultimate chance anyone will get to watch one of the finest left-arm red ball pacemen of this era run through his box of bamboozling tricks.
Mohammad Amir has called time on his Test career and is focusing on white-ball cricket from now on. It’s hard to blame him. Pakistan Test cricketers get paid poorly by comparison with their English, Indian and Australian counterparts, and in addition, Test match commitments can make them a less attractive prospect for Big Bash teams, CPL franchises and from next year, The Hundred sides. They are missing out on literally hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.
It’s a lot of hard work, for little reward. And if you’re Pakistani, you’re toiling away for half your Test match career on seam-unfriendly pitches in the UAE. You’re not even going through all this to play in front of a home crowd.
Amir’s critics will say that he owes Pakistan cricket a debt of gratitude after playing a significant role in its darkest hour; the spot-fixing scandal of 2010. Unlike Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, he has been given a second chance and has thrown it back in the face of people who went out on a limb to rehabilitate him. You can see their point, but you can surely also see his.
And if you can see both sides, you will also be feeling a great sadness. Amir has picked up 258 first-class wickets at an average of 22.7. At his best, he slinks to the crease with a graceful and rhythmic action before pinning bewildered batsmen with his deceptive late swing. Here against Kent he plucked four poles from the ground to remove Zak Crawley, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Heino Kuhn (all yesterday) and Ollie Rayner (this morning). He’s not Wasim Akram, but it often feels as if he might have come close to emulating the great man had he not erred so catastrophically as a callow 18-year-old.
On his return after a five-year ban there were a lot of people who didn’t want him back, and there are many who will not be sorry to see him go. In truth he has only intermittently touched the heights that he reached as a teenager. His place in Pakistan’s World Cup squad this summer was far from secure, but his performances in that tournament spoke of a man back to near his best.
This is the only red-ball match Amir will play for Essex yet his contribution has consolidated Essex’s grip at the top of the table. Kent have played tough, nuggety cricket this season and can rightly be proud of their secure mid-table position. Resistance today came in the form of a 65-run 9th wicket partnership between Harry Podmore, who finished on 54 not out, and Matt Milnes. They may yet get out of this match with a draw, but a first innings total of 226 doesn’t feel enough at this stage against an Essex side with in-form batsmen and the small matter of Simon Harmer eying up a fourth day pitch with relish.
They have also been hit by the news that Adam Milne is out for the season. With Mohammad Nabi having rejoined the Afghan squad, Kent are now without an overseas player for the remainder of their T20 and Championship campaigns.
Sam Cook‘s five-wicket haul may not have been as spectacular as Amir’s stump-busting bursts, but he too continues to impress as Essex have brought together a collection of very fine players who don’t quite attract the attentions of the England selectors – though it should be noted that Harmer qualifies for England next year.
There was just enough time to watch Darren Stevens beat Alastair Cook‘s bat four times in an over as Essex scratched their way to 32 for 1. Stevens is 43. He is sixteen years Amir’s senior, a very different joy to watch and he wants to play at least one more year with a red ball in his hand.
Sadly for us, and worryingly for the wider cricketing world, Mohammad Amir does not.