Pakistan's decision to rest Mohammad Amir in Abu Dhabi had been met with mixed reactions. The critics said a break might hamper the 24-year-old fast bowler's rhythm. But there was also the argument that he was playing international cricket for the first time in five years and had already stacked up 202.3 overs on a long tour of England and 45 more during Pakistan's first day-night Test in Dubai.
Perhaps considering UAE Tests are decided by the batsmen and spinners' contributions, and with two important series coming up - against New Zealand in November and Australia in December - the Pakistan selectors decided to give Amir some time off. The move seems to have worked.
In Sharjah, on the second day of the third Test against West Indies, Amir looked like a man refreshed, picking up two wickets on a slow pitch and also pulling off a spectacular catch to dismiss Darren Bravo. Until that moment, when he ran back from cover, dived after the ball and got hold of it while horizontal with the ground, Amir had not had a single Test catch to his name.
"It was a combined decision between me and the team management to take a rest and that's fine," Amir said. "A bowler can be rested from time to time; even Wahab [Riaz] was rested [in Abu Dhabi] and those who replaced us, Rahat Ali and Sohail Khan, did well. We are just developing our combination. I have been playing for a year now and I think fast bowlers should rest whenever there is a chance.
"Because you never know, I or Wahab can be injured at any time. It can happen in cricket and you can't do anything about that. So when you have a strong bench you can rotate the bowlers you have and give the others some chances as well. Our next tours, New Zealand and Australia, are lengthy so all of us need to be match-ready in case you need someone as cover for an unexpected injury."
Since Amir regained the eligibility to play for Pakistan after his involvement in the spot-fixing scandal in 2010, he has claimed 17 Test wickets at an average of 39.41. Those statistics, however, may have to be taken with a pinch of salt considering he had several catches dropped off his bowling in England. While he has not lost any pace, constantly hitting the low- to mid-140s, the swing he was known for is not quite there.
"Playing Test cricket after five years is not very easy and I started with a tough England tour. It takes time to regain your rhythm," Amir said. "But I feel I am getting there and getting my rhythm back gradually. I did face some problems with fitness earlier, which was expected. After five years of being idle, it's very tough for a fast bowler to immediately be back at his best. It can't be done overnight, you need to keep on performing. I still have a long career ahead of me and I am working hard to get where I was before skills-wise.
"The swing was missing in England but now I have started developing the shape. And I have mostly been playing T20 cricket since coming back, where I bowl with a different arm-action. I was also going wide of the crease earlier but now I have minimised it and worked on my arm-action and its working my way."
Amir was looking forward to doing well in the two Tests in New Zealand - he is part of a 16-man squad that was announced on Monday - and then three more in Australia, including a day-night Test in Brisbane; Pakistan have yet to name a squad for that series.
"Going to New Zealand and Australia and performing there, in those conditions, it gives you immense confidence. I have been to both countries earlier and the pitches there help fast bowlers. With the exposure of playing on tracks like these in UAE, you definitely get a lot of confidence to do well there."
Amir was happiest talking about his catch, though, which helped Pakistan get on top of West Indies. "We actually train to develop these kinds of skills with our fielding coach; it is quite a regular thing. That wicket of Bravo was very important as he was the batsman we wanted to get as soon as possible. We created the opportunity and I made the effort to get him out. So it worked well."
Then, with the wickets of Jermaine Blackwood for 23 and Roston Chase for 50, Amir also helped contain West Indies' fightback as Pakistan ended the second day with a 37-run lead. They still have four more first-innings wickets to take though.