I’m proud and honoured to have one of the UK’s greatest young writers join the Dennis Does Cricket stable.
Please get around Nick Sharland’s debut piece and leave a nice comment [Dennis]
The ICC and the PCB are on the verge of arranging Mohammad Amir’s return to competitive cricket in Pakistan. Amir’s original ban was due to last until September of this year, but under the revised anti-corruption code he may be eligible to play domestic cricket as early as February.
Amir is still only 22, and therefore young enough to hope for an international recall. His natural ability and pace reminded many of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Pakistan’s fast-bowling stars of yester-year. Amir was only seventeen when he made his debut against Sri Lanka at Galle, taking six wickets on a famously placid pitch. He had not reached his nineteenth birthday when he deliberately delivered no-balls to order, in the same Lord’s Test that saw him become the youngest bowler to take fifty Test wickets.
But should a tainted cricketer like Amir, however talented, expect to be welcomed back into the Pakistan fold? While Pakistan’s Test side has been successful so far this decade, in spite of all the obstacles and set-backs, they lack top-class seamers, and if Amir could fulfil a fraction of the potential he showed as an eighteen year-old, he would have no problem displacing the likes of Mohammad Talha and Rahat Ali on skill.
It is impossible to overestimate Amir’s potential at the time of his suspension. It is heartbreaking to imagine what he might have achieved in the sport if he hadn’t got involved in spot-fixing. But he did, and we are where we are.
Many arguments have been made in favour of Amir’s reintegration into the Pakistan side, and each deserves to be addressed. The first is that Amir was young, impressionable and under the influence of a corrupt captain (Salman Butt) and an agent whom he respected. Undoubtedly those authority figures deserved harsh punishments for their role in Amir’s downfall, which they duly received. At eighteen, however, Amir was old enough to tell the difference between right and wrong. He knew that he should have reported the approach to the team management and/or the ICC, and yet he failed to do so. Young, certainly. Impressionable, probably. But even if others set him off on the wrong path, he chose to walk down it despite knowing about the alternatives.
Another popular argument is that, unlike Butt and Asif, Amir pleaded guilty to the charges laid against him in court. However, Amir’s confession followed weeks of denial, in private and in public. He lied to the press, he lied to the PCB, and he lied to his family. As ESPNcricinfo.com’s George Dobell points out, he “was dragged kicking and screaming into confessing. He denied it all the way through until he had no cards left to play”. The fact that Amir pleaded guilty and Butt and Asif didn’t tells you more about the supreme arrogance of the other two than it does about Amir’s honesty.
A third argument, and the most forceful, is that he has served his sentence, and deserves the same right as any other criminal to rehabilitation. Except, he hasn’t served his full sentence, and the punishment he has received was only undertaken reluctantly. He appealed against a custodial sentence, and has been relentless in trying to loosen the bonds of his ICC ban, with assistance from the PCB. In 2011, he was investigated for breaching the terms of his ban when he turned out for Addington 1743 Cricket Club in the Surrey League.
On the other side of the argument, the impact Amir’s actions have had on the world of cricket, and on Pakistan cricket in particular, make it very difficult to justify him playing for the national side again. Corruption is the greatest threat facing cricket at the moment, as it undermines the credibility of the sport and reduces fans’ trust in the spectacle they see in front of them.
What makes cricket, or any sport for that matter, magical to watch? It’s when the unpredictable happens. Fans need to believe that crazy, wonderful and sometimes downright appalling mistakes can be made on the cricket field, without worrying that they were somehow being faked. When AB de Villiers blitzed the fastest ODI century, fans need to believe that the bowlers were trying their hardest to get him out. If Mohammad Amir was given 30 to defend off the last over of an ODI, fed the batsmen rank full-tosses and lost the game, how many people would be screaming fix? He cannot expect fans to take him seriously as a sportsman ever again.
Another reason his return should be discouraged is the fragile reputation of the Pakistan cricket team. Days after the revelations about the spot-fixing at Lord’s, England batsman Jonathan Trott was involved in an altercation with Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz. Trott asked Riaz, ‘How much are you going to make from the bookies today?’ While Trott was wrong to level such an accusation verbally, the spot-fixing scandal cast doubts over the integrity of the whole team, not just the few players who were arrested. As Mohammad Amir himself stated in an interview with Michael Atherton, Pakistan’s reputation as a country was being dragged through the dirt because of their actions.
Since 2010, Misbah-ul-Haq has rebuilt the reputation of the Pakistan team with immense difficulty. Even though they can’t play international fixtures at home, were deprived of their best seamers and captain, he has taken them as high as third in the overall Test rankings. It is a remarkable achievement made only more surprising by the intense media scrutiny of Pakistan’s cricketers. Misbah is one of the most well-respected figures in world cricket, and deserves immense credit for all of his hard work.
To bring back Amir into such an environment would be an incredibly dangerous move by the PCB. While he may have attended all the relevant anti-corruption seminars the ICC have sent him to, he will have to share a dressing room with the men who have spent five years repairing the damage he has done to their reputations. That will not be easy for them or Amir.
George Dobell said that Pakistan deserve better than to have Mohammad Amir play for them again, and he is right. As a team and as a nation, Pakistan are better than Mohammad Amir.
However talented he may have been, however talented he still is, in the long term teams are judged as much by their integrity and honour as by their results. And it is for that reason that Mohammad Amir should not play international cricket again.