Mohammad Aamir’s return to international cricket was both momentous and mediocre as the convicted spot-fixer participated in Pakistan’s 16-run win over New Zealand in the first Twenty20 international in Auckland on Friday.
Amir brought to an end a five-year exile from international cricket when he took to the field at Eden Park in the first of the three-match series. He was the only man not to bat in Pakistan’s innings of 171-8, after it batted on losing the toss, and he took 1-31 from his four overs, opening the bowling as Pakistan dismissed New Zealand for 155 in reply.
Opener Mohammad Hafeez top-scored with 61 from 47 balls in Pakistan’s competitive innings, but captain Shahid Afridi was his team’s match-winner, scoring 23, taking 2-26, three catches, and effecting a run-out.
“That was a great start, especially in batting,” Afridi said. “Mohammad Hafeez played a great innings, and it was a great team effort.
“We just arrived two days ago, and the boys aren’t used to the pitches yet so they played normal cricket, and Hafeez and Ahmed Shezhad brought us some big runs in the first six overs.
“With 171, I was very much confident. I must give credit to the fast bowlers, especially Umar Gul, who came back from injury, and Mohammad Aamir, who both bowled very well at the right time.”
Aamir was 18 when he played his last match for Pakistan, in a Test against England at Lord’s from which revelations of conspiracy and spot-fixing brought his glittering young career crashing down. He was found to have bowled two no balls on the second day at times specified by gamblers, and as part of a spot-fixing conspiracy with his captain Salman Butt and teammate Mohammad Asif.
Aamir was banned for five years, and served three months of a six-month prison sentence in England. His suspension ended in September and, after demonstrating form in Pakistan domestic competitions, he was included in his national team for this tour, despite objections from some teammates. Now 23, he stepped over the boundary rope and onto Eden Park to resume his international career.
His reception was muted: There was neither cheering nor booing, and no sledging from the New Zealanders; there were no proferred hands of welcome nor any backslaps from his teammates. Aamir’s return was simply accepted as an inevitability. He was recognized as one who had made errors as a young man, under the influence of others, and who had paid the penalty for those mistakes and who was trying to pull together the tattered threads of his life and his career.
Aamir’s first ball was inauspicious — a wide — but he bowled two relatively tidy spells at around 135 kph, and showed an ability to contain batsmen. He had two catches put down off his bowling, one by Afridi, and he seemed to have good rhythm.
New Zealand made a poor start to its chase for Pakistan’s total when captain Kane Williamson ran out his opening partner Martin Guptill in the second over. Williamson atoned to some extent when he made 70, his highest score in T20s.
He put on 80 for the second wicket with Colin Munro, who made 56, but the New Zealand innings collapsed after Munro’s dismissal, and though Williamson lingered until the final over, the home team was never going to win.
“Pakistan played very well,” Williamson said. “I think 170 was a reasonable total to chase but we see-sawed a little bit with the bat. We got off to a reasonable start and lost a lot of momentum in the middle which made life pretty difficult.”