Is this the series? Is this the moment, the moment that everyone who remembers the summer of 2010 pre-August 29 has been pining for? The moment finally when Mohammad Amir impacts decisively upon the fate of a Test series?
The first news to report is that he is fit. There is no limp and no drag on that right knee. Two days out from his second Test at Lord’s since his return to cricket, Amir bowled in the nets at full pelt, nothing held back: “He’s perfect, 100%, he’s fine, he’s ready to go,” Mickey Arthur said.
Yet Arthur’s certainty doesn’t ride entirely comfortably with this strange, uncertain and potentially pivotal moment in Amir’s career. When he first returned to Tests in 2016, also at Lord’s, Pakistan were settled enough as a side – and they handled his return smartly enough – for Amir not to be the main focus of that team.
Two years on there is no escaping the fact that he is. Partly it is because he has been a more public presence; Pakistan have relaxed in letting him speak to media. Everyone has moved on.
But it is also because he is the head of this attack and by some distance the most experienced. If Rahat Ali plays at Lord’s, the rest of Pakistan’s attack combined has played one Test less than Amir. If Hasan Ali plays, then Amir has played nearly three times as many as the rest combined.
All of which is a little disorienting given that Amir has only played 31 Tests. It is a career that can simultaneously feel twice as long as that, as well as one that is still waiting to explode into life, as well as one that could not go on for much longer.
He picked up his 100th Test wicket in Malahide last week though more importantly, his spells in the second innings were probably the most incisive he has bowled in a Test since his return.
The 16 drops in 17 Tests have taken some of the sheen off not just his numbers, but also spells that may well have turned out different had the opportunity been taken. If, for example, some of those chances had been taken early in his return on the 2016 England tour, how different might the narrative look now?
There was something about him in that second innings at Malahide though, something that seemed to be a response to the drops, to those many good but wicketless spells, to those flat no-swing spells. You could even look at it as a response to himself, to the question of how long he is for Test cricket.
He played through a troublesome knee, he didn’t allow drops to define his day, he was unafraid to bowl those fuller lengths he has often seemed too ready to pull back from and, not by magic, he swung the ball. Test cricket for Amir looked less a forlorn a pursuit in Malahide than it had for a long time.
Perhaps those wickets will finally break the dam. Naturally Arthur and Pakistan hope it. Do they believe it?
“I think Mohammad Amir is the finest exponent of pace and swing when he gets it 100% right,” Arthur said, and the qualifier to that assessment is the important bit.
They’ve been reinforcing the question of what constitutes 100% right by reminding him of how Trent Boult bowled in Auckland, when England were dismissed for 58.
“We believe [Amir] bowls incredibly well at left-handers and there will be three left-handers [Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan] in the England top four,” Arthur said.
“He’s ready, I just hope it goes really well for him because he’s been unlucky at times with the amount of dropped catches. He’s ready, he’s determined, he’s fit, he’s strong, he’s excited, he’s in a very good place at the moment so I just hope it goes really well for him.”