GeneralOf Good Lengths and Cross-Seamers

Of Good Lengths and Cross-Seamers

The ball itself would not have been something to write home about on most days. Pitched around off-stump from over the wicket, not exhibiting any of the traits you’d see in most balls that are talked about years after their few seconds of existence have passed. It was as stock as stock can be. It was more the idea of what the ball could have been that ensured its immortality in Pakistan cricket lore. We are talking, of course, about the fourth ball in Mohammad Amir’s second over against India in the final of the Champions Trophy in 2017.

Three balls before, something similar had ensued. A similarly bland delivery, top-of-off from over the wicket, no tangible movement, resulting in an outside edge off the bat of Virat Kohli into the offside. On the third ball of the over, Amir pushed it a little wider onto the fourth stump line. Again, Kohli plays for non-existent swing, and again he edges, this time finer, towards the slips. Azhar Ali drops it. From his palms onto his shoulder, rebounding off his face and arm and down on the ground. A one-two-three punch that knocked down 200 million people.

Nevertheless, Amir persists with more of the same, if not a touch fuller. Kohli, by this point predictably, is lured by swing that does not, will not exist, a Ghost of Amir’s Past. He seems to be playing against the reputation of Amir rather than Amir himself, and this time, there is no reprieve, as the ball does not touch the ground again, Shadab doing what Azhar couldn’t.

“Off walks Virat Kohli,” Sourav Ganguly somberly pronounces on air, “and with him, India’s chances in this game.” It is never a very wise thing to be this prescient about a Pakistan victory, there being few teams as capable of capitulating to the supporting cast. Duly, Shikhar Dhawan and Yuvraj Singh begin fighting back with a few boundaries.

The ninth over, Amir’s fifth, seems uneventful. With Dhawan on run-a-ball and Yuvi holding his end, we seem in for a prolonged southpaw scrap. On the last ball, Amir puts out yet another delivery on the fourth stump line, short of a good length, and Dhawan is dismissed with a cross-seamer just when he had started to look dangerous. It feels like a sudden capitulation, but it shouldn’t.

The final nail in the coffin is thus hammered in with perhaps the most anti-Pakistani fast-bowling delivery there is. A ball exhibiting no wicked swing, nor sharp seam, and not even the trickery of a slower ball. It’s no Waqar-to-Lara, nor Asif-to-Laxman, and certainly not Wasim-to-Dravid. It’s a delivery of a bowler who knows the price of flying too close to the sun, determined to shed all the weight of his journey up to this moment, to go whatever way is needed for his teammates and for himself. And so he bowls a cross-seamer on an immaculate line and length. A hint of extra bounce, a kiss to the edge of the bat, and the ball – and with it victory – settle firmly in Sarfaraz’s hands. Spice oozing out of blandness.

Rohit Sharma’s wicket in the first over had come from an inswinger, yes, but a mild one, with almost as much movement off the surface as in the air. The very next ball, Kohli’s first, had seamed in after pitching outside off, beating his inside edge. Perhaps this had been the catalyst for Kohli playing Amir, not like he was bowling at The Oval on a hot afternoon in 2017, but as if he was bowling a few kilometers away at Lord’s on an overcast morning in 2010.

It was at Lord’s that Amir had his wings clipped, but on this day at The Oval, it felt as though he had soared again to new heights, like he had experienced a rebirth and had nothing to lose, nothing binding him to his previous self. For one spell, he was the best bowler in the world.


“A life and a career usually come in three parts. Birth, life, and death. Today, Mohammad Amir has defied the cricketing Gods to be reborn a second time.”

These are the words I had written down after the first innings against India had concluded in the recent 2024 T20 World Cup match. I expected the batting to apply the finishing touches, as generations before have and those to come will. To complete what seemed a mere formality. It sounds just as crazy a sentence in hindsight as it was when it appeared in my mind. But you could forgive a Pakistan fan for indulging in such confident assumptions after witnessing four horsemen of fast bowling dismantle an Indian batting lineup. And in doing so, adding another chapter to the fast-bowling epic of Pakistan. But fate, as Amir knows, is not a fairytale.

A couple of matches later, Amir’s international career, barring any surprises, likely ended after the match against Ireland in a half-empty stadium in southern Florida. Fittingly, he finished his 4-over spell with a maiden, bowling selflessly and putting the team before himself. For the man once banished for selling out his team, could there be better redemption? It was not the farewell anyone would have foreseen at any point in his career, but perhaps it was the perfect one.

The author

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