Aamir Jamal Leaves a Mark
Imagine being a fast bowler. A fast bowler who plays the role of an enforcer. A fast bowler who has a grueling job of coming in the middle of the day and banging the ball into the deck with all his force. You are in the side to put your opposite knee and every muscle and bone in your back on the line.
Where would you want your Test debut to be? Not Rawalpindi, for sure, and perhaps you would not even wish that for your most fierce rival. You may be tempted to opt for venues in South Africa, New Zealand, or England. But they don’t have that element. You want the surface to be at its spiciest when your captain throws that cherry at you.
Perth? A definite yes! The Optus Stadium might not be the good old WACA, where the surfaces turned into minefields as the matches progressed, but in its bid to make Test matches here as sexy as they used to be, Cricket Australia’s ‘The West Test’ rebranding intends to somewhat emulate that spice in this modern-day amphitheater.
It would certainly be nice if your fellow bowlers, who have the glamourous job of making the new ball nip around and induce oohs and aahs from thousands in the stands, have the opposition two or three wickets down by the time your captain asks you to loosen up. If that is a big ask, then how about having the contest evenly poised by the time you are shadow bowling? After all, they are the ones who got the hard and perfectly lacquered Kookaburra on this hard deck with perfectly scattered live, green grass on it.
When Aamir Jamal’s moment, however, arrived yesterday in the 11th over, he had to make do with the opening pair of David Warner and Usman Khawaja cruising at around five an over.
During Pakistan’s last Test assignment Down Under in 2019, Australian legend Rickey Ponting famously said that he had not seen a poorer bowling attack land in his country than what the tourists had brought. Pakistan, reeling from the disgruntled unavailability of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz, had teenagers in Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, and Mohammad Musa Khan – the latter two had not played a Test by then – making their pace attack on the two-Test tour that resulted in the hosts humiliating the tourists by innings margins at both Brisbane and Adelaide.
Not much has changed since because of the Pakistan Cricket Board’s questionable management of their fast bowlers. So, in the opening Test at Perth, Pakistan’s four-pronged pace attack comprised two debutants in Khurram Shahzad and Jamal.
Save for some sparks of brilliance, Pakistan remained ordinary for the most part of the opening day as their pacers struggled to hit the desired lengths. With Shahzad sharing the new ball with Shaheen, the latter being the spearhead, Jamal had some heavy lifting to do. There were no wickets for Shaheen in the opening spell as Warner – scoring a sparkling fifty – and Khawaja raced to their only second century stand since March 2022, when Australia last played Pakistan.
Pakistan had to wait until the afternoon session for the breakthrough, which only Shaheen would provide with a beauty to Khawaja. But that was the only blow the left-arm pacer would inflict in the entire innings.
With Faheem Ashraf being the fourth pacer, Pakistan’s pace battery lacked genuine pace, and that augured another toiling day of Australian summer for Pakistan as Warner feasted on mid-130kph deliveries, all the while settling his personal scores with his former teammate through yet another commanding century against this opposition. That he got three reprieves further added to Pakistan’s misery.
As Australia went past 300 at the loss of only three wickets and looked set to finish the day on a high, Shan Masood took one last gamble on Jamal. And it paid off.
Before entering this contest, Jamal, known for his reputation of being a consistent hard-length bowler, had 76 first-class wickets in 28 matches before the Perth Test. He earned his maiden spot in Pakistan’s Test squad earlier in the year after finishing last year’s Quaid-e-Azam Trophy as the best fast bowler and for his outstanding returns in Zimbabwe for Pakistan Shaheens. He featured in four matches for Lahore Whites in this year’s iteration of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, played largely on flat tracks, taking 12 wickets in four matches at 31.5.
Jamal famously announced his arrival on the international stage after that heroic last over in Lahore when he defended 15 runs off the last over against Moeen Ali to win Pakistan the fifth match of the seven-match T20I series. But after he failed to make the cut for the T20 World Cup that immediately followed that series, Jamal went into oblivion.
With the historic home Test season around the corner, as England and New Zealand were to play three and two matches across Pakistan, Jamal rushed to Northern, his first-class team, to make a case for his Test selection. Upon being asked to bowl longer spells to be in contention, he began increasing the number of overs in his spells. Such was his determination that against Balochistan at the Abbottabad Cricket Stadium, Jamal delivered 15 overs on the bounce in one session through 2 hours and 45 minutes to record his best first-class figures of eight for 120.
So on Thursday, staying true to his reputation, Jamal peppered short-pitched deliveries at Warner and Travis Head as the pair unleashed audacious cuts and pulls with the shadows getting larger on the outfield. Masood had laid a blatant trap with fielders guarding the fly slip, backward point, gully, deep third man, and deep fine leg positions. Pakistan captains have set such plans in the past, but the pacers have often failed to oblige, ostensibly because of their inability to hit the desired areas. Jamal, however, did oblige, providing a saving grace to his side with the wickets of the two in succession as Pakistan walked back with half of the opposition’s batters dismissed.
At the media duties later in the day, Jamal expressed his hope of bowling out the opposition in the first hour. That required his fellow pacers, who had the luxury of a new Kookaburra that offered steep bounce and lateral movement both on and off the surface, to keep the opposition under the pump.
Jamal’s statement could have been more due to a desire to keep his feet up than a simple game tactic. He, after all, was entitled to a day on the massage table after toiling a whole day in the oppressive Perth heat.
But, it was not to be.
He had to earn it. After Alex Carey and Mitch Marsh smashed his fellow pacers around the dial with ease, Jamal produced two gems to clean up Carey and Mitchell Starc. Coming from around the wicket to the two left-handers, Jamal pitched the ball on a good length and straightened it just enough to rattle their off stumps. He would go on to induce edges of the last two Australian batters to be safely held in the slip cordon and, in between, become the first Pakistan bowler to record a five-wicket haul Down Under in 13 years. He finished with six for 111.
As Shaheen, Shahzad, and Ashraf struggled to keep up the pace after yesterday’s hard work, Jamal stayed in the high 130kph and often ventured beyond the 140kph mark.
Jamal had started his day after being dispatched for four by a dangerous-looking Marsh as he erred in both his line and length. He immediately recalibrated his angles and had Carey walking back four balls later.
This is the guy who does not believe in shortcuts, as he would reveal to me in a PCB Digital interview after his selection in the squad for Sri Lanka Tests. When he left a career as a club cricketer in Australia in 2016 to pursue his dream of becoming a Pakistan cricketer, the domestic system at home accommodated him only in a few Grade-II games. When he failed to make ends meet, he started to drive an Uber on a bank-leased car, all the while making sure that his fitness regime did not take a hit. He would go on to say everything happens for the best. Perhaps he thought the same when Marsh pulled him on the first ball today.
As Pakistan walked off the field after bowling out Australia, which seemed a highly unlikely proposition when the tourists announced their squad on the eve of the match, Jamal proudly did a ball salute. It was after a long time that a Pakistan pacer could do that in Australia.