In an interview with PakPassion, Mohammad Amir speaks about why he retired from international cricket, whether he regrets the decision to retire, gives his thoughts on the recent selection policies in Pakistan cricket, responds to the criticism he has received since announcing his international retirement, his future plans and whether there is any chance of him reversing his decision to retire from playing for Pakistan.
By Saj Sadiq (11th May, 2021)
PakPassion.net: There’s every chance that you could end your career having never played a Test match in Pakistan. How do you feel about that?
Mohammad Amir: It hurts that I’ve never played a Test match in my home country, but there are a few reasons behind this. When I started playing international cricket there were no matches being played in Pakistan and then of course I took retirement from Test cricket. But, despite that, I am proud that I have represented Pakistan in Test cricket not once or twice, but thirty-six times. If luck had favoured me such that whilst I was playing international cricket, Pakistan had played home series then that would have been a great honour and very special for me. But the most important thing for me is that I have represented my country in Test cricket albeit away from Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: Many feel that you have been selfish in your decision to retire from international cricket. What do you say in response?
Mohammad Amir: I have always respected everyone’s opinions and thoughts. There was nothing selfish about the decision and at the end of the day there are certain things that you have to think long and hard about before you make an important choice. At the moment there is no chance of my making a comeback to international cricket, but if things get better then who knows maybe you will see me playing for Pakistan once again in future.
PakPassion.net: What exactly needs to get better for you to make yourself available once again for international cricket?
Mohammad Amir: Retiring from playing for your beloved country isn’t an easy step to take. I thought a lot about this decision, I spoke to those close to me and only then did I reach this decision. If I go into all of the details and re-open all those chapters then it will get very ugly. I hope that our players, especially the youngsters in future don’t have to face what I had to face as I don’t want our younger players to get disheartened and have to sacrifice their careers like I did.
What matters most to me is respect and I felt that I wasn’t getting the respect I deserved and that’s why I took the decision to retire. The people in charge of Pakistan cricket have their job to do, they have their responsibilities and have their decisions to make, and I have my career to continue and look forward to, so we all should move on, as right now I am happy with my life.
PakPassion.net: Is it fair to say that you weren’t yourself prior to your retirement from international cricket?
Mohammad Amir: There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes that the public could not see. Players were being side-lined and the level of mental pressure being put on players was too much. People can only see what’s on the television screen and don’t get the full picture of what is actually happening and what players are facing away from the ground. I wasn’t enjoying my cricket or the mental pressure being put on me. When you are not enjoying the sport that you love and have always loved and when you are not enjoying cricket, then there is no need to play in that environment. In any job, if you don’t enjoy your work, then you will not express yourself to the fullest, and if you are not enjoying your job then you will not perform to the best of your ability.
PakPassion.net: Prior to your retirement, were you suffering from mental health issues or was it something else?
Mohammad Amir: Yes I was suffering from mental pressure, and I would be very surprised if I was the only one who has gone through this. Some players are too frightened to do anything about it or speak up about it because there are a lot of things which are outside the control of players. If the team management isn’t giving a player any respect then that is going to affect the player. When there is a communication gap between the team management and the players then things will head in the wrong direction. There was a big communication gap between the management and I and this was very badly handled and really affected me and my mental health.
PakPassion.net: Whilst you point the finger at the team management, Waqar Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq did actually support you throughout your career, didn’t they?
Mohammad Amir: Regarding support at key moments in my career. I will always be indebted to Najam Sethi and Shahid Afridi for their support. Prime-Minister Imran Khan also supported me, as did Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Yousuf. All of these people were the ones who were actually very public and open in their support for me, and I will always appreciate that.
PakPassion.net: Many feel that your decision to retire from international cricket is purely a financial one in the hope that you can make lots of money from playing in various leagues around the world?
Mohammad Amir: Some have such a mindset where they feel that a certain person can never do anything right. No matter what that player does, they will twist it and turn it into a negative. I am only playing in the leagues that are available to other Pakistani cricketers and it’s not as if there are any special leagues being organised just for my benefit. Are other players being called out for putting money first? For example, Haider Ali recently signed to play in the Caribbean Premier League, are people calling him a money-grabber? If players are getting an opportunity to play in a league, then they should go for it.
When I was dropped from the Pakistan side, I was going to grab every opportunity so that I could improve and prove to others that I can still perform and people accepted that. But, then when I retired from Test cricket and I was playing in leagues around the world, suddenly people started saying it was all about money.
PakPassion.net: When you are sitting at home watching Pakistan playing on television, doesn’t a part of you wish that you were out there on the field with them?
Mohammad Amir: Of course everybody wants to play for their country. It was my boyhood dream to play cricket for Pakistan and it still is. But sometimes tough decisions have to be made regarding your future and having made that decision you shouldn’t have any regrets. When you have covered all the bases and thought properly about a decision, then you cannot and should not have any regrets.
PakPassion.net: Many believe that prior to your retirement from international cricket, your performances had declined. Was that due to the mental pressure you mentioned earlier or was it something else?
Mohammad Amir: The biggest problem was that no matter what I did with the ball, the critics were never happy. If I had bowling figures of 1 for 40 from 10 overs, they would say that he didn’t take enough wickets. If I had figures of 3 for 60 from 10 overs, they would say that I conceded too many runs. It was a no-win situation for me and in the end, I just had that mindset of letting them enjoy themselves criticising me if that is what they wanted. I always felt that whilst I wasn’t really enjoying my cricket as much, my effort levels never declined when I was playing for Pakistan. As a cricketer you have good and bad days, but I always gave 100% wherever and whenever I played - I always gave my all.
PakPassion.net: 36 Tests, 61 ODIs and 50 T20Is since your debut in 2009. Do those numbers display a certain degree of underachievement?
Mohammad Amir: I have no regrets. It wasn’t easy playing this many matches in all formats especially after the ban. Some players would never have made it back to the highest level after 5 years out of the game, like I did. That took a lot of mental and physical courage to do. I represented my country nearly 150 times and I am very proud of that. Nowadays some of our players play 2 or 3 matches and then they are nowhere to be seen. I am grateful for what I have accomplished in international cricket and will always be proud of my efforts and achievements.
PakPassion.net: You were seen as the great Pakistani cricketing hope, but is it fair to say that Pakistani cricket-lovers have fallen out of love with you?
Mohammad Amir: Look, there is no way you can please everyone. There are some people in life who no matter what you do they will always criticise and find faults in it. They are the people who will turn a positive into a negative. Some sit on YouTube criticising my every move and others go on social media for attention for their fabricated and ridiculous stories. I have always been close to my fans and those who have supported me throughout the highs and lows of my career. They are the people who I want to entertain and perform for, not those who continue to spout nonsense about me.
PakPassion.net: When you look back at your ban for spot-fixing, what do you feel about that time and what did you learn from it?
Mohammad Amir: It’s been a long time now since those events, but it’s right to say that I learnt a lot from that time and those events. Sometimes as a person you learn more from the bad times than the good times. I thought a lot about my future at that time and it was fifty/fifty if I was even going to play cricket again. But when I made my mind up to play cricket again after my ban, I thought long and hard about my lifestyle, the company I kept and what I wanted to achieve in life. Marriage helped in that regard and I’ve become much more family orientated especially since becoming a father.
PakPassion.net: You played County cricket at Essex, how was that experience?
Mohammad Amir: It was a great experience for me. I played there for the first time in 2017 and went on to play for them for a couple of seasons. They are such a great bunch of people who gave me so much respect and looked after me really well. They are such a professional outfit from top to bottom and it was a pleasure playing for them. It was a wonderful journey with Essex and who knows maybe one day I will go back there and play for them once again.
PakPassion.net: How did the experience of playing County cricket improve you as a cricketer?
Mohammad Amir: County cricket is tough cricket, and I would advise all Pakistani cricketers especially the younger ones that if they get the chance to play County cricket, grab the chance with both hands. It’s an outstanding environment and Pakistan domestic cricket can only learn from it. In fact, Pakistan domestic cricket is like club cricket compared to County cricket. The County scene is like a smaller version of international cricket and a fantastic learning opportunity for any young cricketer to work with some fantastic coaches and play alongside and against some great cricketing minds. As an overseas cricketer, I have never come across a better environment in my cricket career than I saw when I played in County cricket.
PakPassion.net: Are you looking forward to playing for London Spirit in the inaugural edition of The Hundred tournament this year?
Mohammad Amir: I’m really looking forward to this tournament. It’s going to be interesting to see how players adapt to this format, what the tactics are and how teams approach the competition. I love playing in England and I’m excited and no doubt everyone else who is going to be involved in the tournament will be equally excited. There’s always a buzz when a new format or new tournament is launched and I’m sure the tournament will be a big success. Playing white-ball cricket in England is always special and I’m sure the fans are really going to enjoy watching it especially if they are allowed into the grounds later this year.
PakPassion.net: Is it your plan to gain British Citizenship, settle in England and then play in tournaments such as the Indian Premier League?
Mohammad Amir: At the moment I’ve been granted indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. I’m enjoying my cricket these days and plan to play for another 6 or 7 years so let’s see how things go. My children will grow up in England and receive their education there so no doubt I will be spending a fair amount of time there. At the moment, I’ve not really thought about the other possibilities and opportunities available and how things will turn out when I receive British citizenship in the future.
PakPassion.net: What benefits has the Pakistan Super League (PSL) provided for Pakistan cricket?
Mohammad Amir: There are so many cricketers playing for Pakistan who have come via the PSL route. The PSL has taken Pakistan cricket forward and given an opportunity to young players in the country to showcase their talent. By performing in leagues such as the PSL, it makes things easier for players to perform in international cricket. Our players get the chance to share a dressing room with some of the biggest names in cricket which is huge for their development. It’s fantastic to see the PSL now being ranked amongst the best Twenty20 leagues in the world. The tournament gives players a chance to show what they can do in a major tournament and provides a platform to be seen around the world. Look at the likes of Haider Ali who have performed well in the PSL and are now being signed-up by Twenty20 teams around the world.
PakPassion.net: Do you think the Pakistan Cap has been devalued by some questionable selections in recent years?
Mohammad Amir: I look at myself, I came through the school system, junior system, Under-19s, completed Pakistan Academy tours, but these days it’s far too easy to win a cap for Pakistan. Whilst I was still a teenager at the time, I felt I was ready to play for my country when I was called-up, which doesn’t seem to be the case these days. I want younger players to play for Pakistan, but they have to be ready and once selected, they have to be given a proper chance to perform. If you keep chopping and changing players, you will struggle to find the right combination. Discarding established players and bringing in players who are clearly not ready for international cricket is something that I am not in favour of and it rarely works.
PakPassion.net: Where are the Pakistani selectors and think-tank getting things wrong in your opinion regarding selection and the development of players?
Mohammad Amir: Look at the players that India, England and New Zealand are bringing into international cricket. They are ready to play at the highest level as they have done the hard yards and have completed their learning in the domestic and junior systems. Once selected, they show their skills in international cricket which they have already learnt in domestic cricket. Whereas in Pakistan, at the moment, our players are expected to learn from the national coaches while playing international cricket, rather than having already learnt the art of cricket earlier in their careers.
Look at Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav and Krunal Pandya, they looked ready and primed for international cricket when they made their debuts and did not look to need much advice or coaching at all. They have played several years of domestic cricket and the IPL and that makes their introduction into international cricket much smoother.
International cricket isn’t school cricket where you learn on the job. It’s a tough environment where only players who are ready and who have learnt about the game and obtained the necessary skills should be selected. If you want to learn about cricket, do it at the academy or in First-class cricket, don’t come to international cricket underprepared and hope to learn whilst playing for your country. Too often our young players are thrown into international cricket with technical flaws, with issues in their game, in the hope that they will improve. Well, it doesn’t work like that at all and the sooner we realise it, the better it will be.
PakPassion.net: Are young pace-bowlers in Pakistan being thrown into international cricket when they aren’t ready?
Mohammad Amir: I look at some of the bowlers such as Muhammad Musa and Naseem Shah and ask, where are they now? They are nowhere to be seen after being hailed as the next bowling superstars. This is due to the process and culture in Pakistan of throwing a player into the deep end and hoping that he will perform, rather than knowing that he is ready and will perform. Players aren’t ready, yet they are being selected in the hope that they will learn from Waqar Younis or the other coaches whilst playing international cricket. We pick a batch of youngsters and if one or two out of the group do well, the selectors and management then give themselves a pat on the back and say there you go, we are producing good young cricketers. It’s a flawed way of thinking.
PakPassion.net: What changes need to be made to the process for Pakistan to produce better prepared cricketers in future?
Mohammad Amir: It is simple. Cricketers have to play more First-class cricket before they are picked for the country. Picking players who have played one or two First-class matches and then expecting them to do well is a huge risk. Get them to play 25-30 First-class matches and see what they are made of before picking them for Pakistan. We hype cricketers up after a couple of PSL matches or one First-class match and that is totally wrong. These boys should be playing a few seasons of First-class cricket like they do in other countries before they are picked for national duty.
PakPassion.net: Is there a culture where cricketers don’t stand up for themselves in Pakistan?
Mohammad Amir: Absolutely, but only they can answer why they sit quietly. We can all see who is getting harsh treatment from the selectors. There is no way that Imad Wasim and Haris Sohail should have been left out of the tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe. They are told that they need to improve in certain areas and come out of their comfort zone but look at their replacements. What about the areas they need to improve in and the major flaws in their technique? Are they bringing in players to replace the likes of Imad and Haris who don’t have any improvements to make? Of course, they aren’t. All players have areas to work on, nobody is perfect, does that mean that the selectors are going to keep dropping players after every series and continue this vicious cycle?
PakPassion.net: You’ve played under some strong characters over the years. Is there a lack of those strong characters and leaders currently in Pakistan cricket?
Mohammad Amir: You will only see those strong characters and leaders when the chopping and changing of players stops. After every tour there is a number of changes, players coming and going and there is no chance that those strong characters will emerge. Leaders emerge when they know they will be picked for a few series and will get a chance to establish themselves. Apart from Babar Azam, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Rizwan, most of the other players don’t know if they will even be picked for the next tour, so how are they going to develop as leaders. The players need space, they need to have some freedom to express themselves and only then will you see positive body language on the field.
PakPassion.net: Is life complete for you without international cricket?
Mohammad Amir: Life has never been better. I’m in a very good place at the moment. I’ve got the PSL to look forward to, then the Kashmir Premier League and then The Hundred and some matches at the T20 Blast later in the year. So, despite not playing for Pakistan, I’m busy with lots of cricket coming up. In addition, my daughters keep me busy. My family means a lot to me.
PakPassion.net: Will we ever see Mohammad Amir in a Pakistan shirt again?
Mohammad Amir: If things get better in terms of the team management, then there is definitely a chance. Nobody knows what the future holds and what can happen tomorrow. But for now, and as things stand at the moment there is no chance of me playing for Pakistan.