Mohammad Amir - making up for lost time, bowling as well as ever
In 2010, Mohammad Amir bowled two deliberate no-balls in a Test match against England at Lord’s. He had cheated the game he loved and brought shame on his country and his family. Subsequently, Amir was found guilty of match-fixing, spent time in prison and served a five year ban from all forms of cricket.
Now, still only 23 years of age, he is back and bowling as well as ever.
There are two schools of thought about Amir. One is that he is a cheat and should have been banned for life, the only way to deter others from doing the same. The other is that he was a young man taken advantage of by more experienced colleagues and should be forgiven for a mistake that he didn’t really want to make.
This observer is in the second camp. At the time of his indiscretion, Amir was just 18 years old. Captain Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, experienced players, pressured and cajoled Amir in to their plan. He was a young and naïve man, uneducated and fearful for his career.
That is not an excuse; Amir deserved his punishment. But he did not deserve permanent expulsion from the game that had given purpose to his simple life since he was a child. He was a victim as much as a culprit.
Not that Amir wanted special treatment. He was the only player to plead guilty to the charges put before Southwark Crown Court and has showed genuine contrition. He has not complained at his punishment and during those long five years, kept his own counsel and his head down.
Amir returned to international cricket earlier this year in New Zealand. His long hair has gone and his face looks less fresh faced than he had back in 2009 when he helped Pakistan win the World T20 in England. He looks a harder person now; the strain has clearly worn hard on him.
Before his ban, and with his innocence so refreshing, Amir had taken the cricketing world by storm. During that fateful series in England, he took 19 wickets including six for 84 in that Lord’s game. He had taken a Test match hat-trick against Australia, and Wasim Akram had picked him out as a star.
He was the brightest fast bowling prospect in the world before it all came crashing down around him.
During his five-year ban, Amir was not allowed to play cricket in any professional setting which included matches and training sessions. There must have been dark times where he wondered if he would still have his prodigious gifts or ever return to the professional game.
The ICC allowed Amir to return to domestic cricket before the September deadline in part because of his remorse but also because he had completed an anti-corruption education course. He fared well on his return in March last year but it was international cricket than Amir was determined to return to.
There was plenty spoken and written of his return to Pakistan colours in New Zealand, many hoping to see him fail and others wondering if he still had it in him to succeed at international level.
Several of his team-mates initially refused to play alongside him. Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali were two high profile Pakistani players to raise their concerns. In December, Hafeez said, "My stance has been simple all the way, that anyone who damages the pride and integrity of the country should not be given a chance again."
They have both come round but it is a sentiment likely to be shared by many and it’s understandable, if wrong, that Amir will be viewed with suspicion for the rest of his career. There is nothing he can do about that except let his cricket do the talking.
It seems the ban has not diminished his skill and if anything he has put on a yard of pace now that he is stronger and grown in to his frame. His short but fast run up is still there as is his high front arm and whippy action. He looks to be the same bowler.
He is yet to return to the Test arena and if selected, may do so in England when Pakistan tour later this year. It will be interesting to see the reception he receives. His performances with the red ball in Pakistan’s domestic competition have been solid so a return to Test cricket should be straightforward.
Whether he will return to England the same person is another matter. The experience of prison and such a lengthy ban must have been galling for someone whose only real talent lay in the game of cricket. He looks to be determined to seize his second chance, celebrating wickets with gusto and almost a sense of relief.
This observer is pleased to see him back. He was taken advantage of and placed in a situation where those around him should have known and done better. Amir did wrong but second chances should be given to those who deserve them and he is clearly deserving.
There have been no histrionics, no showboating or sledging and no appeals for sympathy in his few appearances so far. Just Amir, bowling fast, playing in the green of his country. He has served his punishment. Now it is up to Amir, with ball in hand, to make up for lost time.
© Cricket World 2016