The end was always around the corner for Virat Kohli. Having broken free from the shackles of century drought across format last September, a glimpse of vintage Virat was seen in that valiant 44-run knock on the tricky Delhi track against Australia. Yet the criticism around Kohli’s form and the much-eluded milestone remained the cynosure of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series with few even questioning his place in the squad. Three weeks later, Kohli’s wait for another triple-figure score, the format he cherishes the most, ended with a classy 186 in Ahmedabad against Australia. It took Kohli 42 innings, across 1205 days to notch up his 28th Test ton. A self-acclaimed admirer of Kohli, Mohammad Amir, the veteran Pakistan pacer, lashed out at critics after the 33-year-old’s classy knock in Ahmedabad which helped India claim a 2-1 series win.
Speaking to Hindustan Times Digital in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of Legends Cricket League in Doha, Amir spoke about his rivalry with Pakistan skipper Babar Azam in PSL, Pakistan’s chances in the 2023 ODI World Cup and the future of Indian pace attack with Jasprit Bumrah struggling with injury and both Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav being in their 30s. Here are excerpts…
Q) If you could start by talking about arriving directly from Pakistan Super League to be part of the Legends League Cricket…
It was never my aim to come here for some serious cricket. I just wanted to go to the ground and sit with these legends and share the dressing room with them. With Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Akhtar, I have played only 1-2 years of cricket because after that they had retired. Then there are legends like Brett Lee, whom I want to see in the ground, want to soak in this atmosphere because most of them I saw on TV. I am really very excited to play with them, and against a few of them. It going to be lot of fun.
Q) Social media has been buzzing about your rivalry Babar Azam in PSL with videos going viral. Your thoughts on this battle with the Pakistan captain?
As a cricketer, I feel this is necessary. When you take the ground against one of the best players in the world, friendship takes a back seat because you want to give your best. In the ground, as a bowler, you kind of need that aggression no matter the batter. And in franchise cricket, such kind of batsman versus bowler competition keeps fans engaged and even the branding and the hype around the tournament reaches new level. As you mentioned, people on social media enjoyed that a lot. I enjoyed it a lot myself as well.
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Q) Shaheen Afridi is trying something different this time in PSL. He walked in at No.6 a few times and even scored a fifty. Do you think Pakistan team should take a note of this with World Cup in mind?
Definitely. These days cricket has become so fast these days, you have to take you decisions within seconds. Textbook cricket has become redundant now. And these days, batters have become so versatile with their gameplan so you can use different batters in different situations. So yes, Pakistan should consider this.
Q) A long shot probably, but do you think Shaheen can evolve into a Hardik Pandya-like player for Pakistan?
If he keeps working on this and believes that he can improve his batting, then definitely. Practice makes you perfect. I saw that he can hit long sixes and scored a fifty as well.
Q) You have always been an admirer of Kohli. Last day he ended his long wait for a century in Test cricket. Thoughts on that. Do you also feel that the talk around him not getting to that triple-figure mark was justified?
Who are these people who are criticising Kohli? I really don’t understand. At the end of the day he is human. It’s not like he has a remote and you press the button everyday and you get a hundred and Kohli will win the match for India. Every player goes through ups and downs. I know because there are certain days when I feel I am bowling well but I don’t pick any wickets. And then many a times it is like I bowl bizarrely, probably a full toss or down-the-leg delivery, and I get a wicket. You need luck as well. And you can never doubt Kohli for his hard work. He loves challenges. Every time he has been criticised, he has bounced back to prove them wrong.
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Q) You have played so many matches against India. Who is the toughest batter you have faced?
Toughest…this is a difficult one. I just felt good playing against India. There used to be so much pressure that maybe I never thought about that. There are so much hype around an India versus Pakistan game that the sole thought that used to be on my mind was, ‘we have to win’.
Q) What is that one factor Pakistan need to emerge as a title contender for the 2023 World Cup in India?
They have to make their spin department strong. In India, which ever team has the strongest spin attack, will win the World Cup.
Q) Whom do you see as the key player for Pakistan in that role?
We have Shadab Khan. Mohammad Nawaz as well, who has been doing well in ODIs. Had it been the T20I format, Imad Wasim would have been a better choice. There is another option – Usama Mir. He is a brilliant leg-spinner. He performed well in the series against New Zealand at home. He can be a good option.
Q) Jasprit Bumrah will be out for a long time now. Did you see this injury coming given his bowling action?
What I feel is that Bumrah consistently played cricket for a long time, across formats, and then played in IPL as well. India too play cricket all around the year. He is human. At the end of the day, the body gets tired and it demands rest. I always say, back and knee injuries for a bowler are two which I wouldn’t even wish for my enemy. It tends to end careers of cricketers. I hope he is strong and is recovering well.
Q) Bumrah is injured. Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav are both in their 30s now. Whom do you see taking over the mantle in Test cricket in India’s pace department?
The bowler who has most impressed me is Mohammed Siraj. If you look at the recent past, he is the most improved bowler in any format. With him you need to groom 1-2 young bowlers ready because in about a year or two players like Shami will also be sticking to a single format.
Q) Who are these young India bowlers who can take up the role?
Arshdeep Singh can be a really good option in red-ball cricket because he can swing the ball both ways. I don’t see Umran Malik, with that raw pace, making that cut in Test cricket because for players like him, you need to follow a certain method. Let him stick to white-ball cricket and maybe when he learns the art of handling pressure then he can slowly be injected into the Test team in the future.
Q) Last question, you prediction for the World Test Championship final – India vs Australia at The Oval?
India. They have very good chances.
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