Just over four years ago, Mohammad Amir, the hottest pace prospect in the world at the time (whom Imran Khan said was “miles ahead of Wasim Akram when he was 18”, a sentiment that Wasim Akram also agreed with), was found to have been involved in what is arguably the single most shameful moment in the history of Pakistani cricket. He was caught cheating along with Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt. Strangely, divided as Pakistanis and the rest of the cricketing world may predictably have been in their assessment of what actually happened, there was one feeling that almost everyone shared, i.e. sympathy for Mohammad Amir.
Nasser Hussain wrote that on hearing the news of some Pakistanis being involved in match fixing, one of the first thoughts he had was: “Please let it not be Mohammad Amir.” Micheal Atherton believed Amir was in “the grip of evil” and pleaded with the International Cricket Council (ICC) to show leniency towards him. Michael Holding almost broke into tears. He also wrote in Amir’s favour to the judge hearing the trial. Sympathy for Amir was also one of very few things that three successive Chairmen of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) shared. In the case of Zaka Ashraf and Najam Sethi, who otherwise seemed to disagree over every triviality and whose vendettas created the worst leadership crisis in the PCB’s history, it was probably the only thing. First Zaka pledged his support to Amir’s cause. It was under his leadership that the PCB managed a heavily scripted interview of Muhammad Amir with Michael Atherton to show him in a favourable light. Not all people believed what he said but it certainly helped a great deal in garnering further sympathy for him. Sethi too did not give up on the idea of expediting Amir’s return to cricket. Apparently he was able to infect the ICC management with the same sympathy since it has recently amended its anti-corruption code, making it possible for Amir to return to domestic cricket before the end of his lifetime ban.
Most recently the new PCB chief, Shahryar Khan, formally wrote to the ICC to allow Amir to play domestic cricket, in light of its revised anti-corruption code. So far so good. However, there still are a few people uninfected by sympathy. One is former test cricketer Ramiz Raja who took strong exception to the efforts of the managers of the game to facilitate Amir’s return to “the very system that he had wronged”. He dismissed the argument of Amir’s youthful naiveté and poor background by pointing out: “If that is the case, there are millions of other Pakistani youth who have had a tough start in life, and less than ideal upbringings. Does that give them license to use underhanded means and to cheat to make a living?” In all honesty, there is no answer to this question.
However, it is also true that man is not infallible. We all make mistakes, big and small, which people of Amir’s age and background are more likely to commit. Is not a lifetime ban too great a punishment for a first offence, especially when the individual has confessed to it and shown remorse too? It seems cruel to stop a boy of such a tender age permanently from doing what he does best, for committing a first offence even if he was not tricked or forced into it. However, in this case it is not only an individual but bigger things at stake — the image of the game itself and that of a team representing the world’s sixth largest nation in this game. “After years of perseverance, Misbahul Haq and his men have been able to salvage Pakistani cricket and its image. Should they be exposed to a virus now?” asks Raja. Again there is no answer to this question.
It is after a long time that rumours of match-fixing in Pakistani cricket have died down. After a long time most of us are finally able to believe that the results our team is producing reflect its ability and the strengths or weakness of its strategy and not some underhanded deals by our players with bookies. With Amir on the team can we be as sure as we are now when our team loses? Should we trade confidence for doubt again? No we should not! It may appear cruel to Amir but it is in the interests of the game, the Pakistani team and us fans to keep Amir away from cricket. There are a few mistakes that are too big to forgive even if they were committed for the first time at a tender age. Amir has made such a mistake and he, not we, should pay for it.