Does Mohammad Amir deserve a second chance?

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Sport is black and white in judging a performer. You stumble, and you’re out. The international cricketing world is small, tightly knit, and ruthless in this regard. It is not a community where a serious offender is commonly accepted and reabsorbed. But cases where professional athletes who confess to their wrongdoings, serve a suspension, and then are welcomed back, can exist. Following the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) latest meeting in Dubai, Pakistani cricketer Mohammed Amir is being given the chance to prove so.

To remind you of how the story began, Mohammed Amir emerged on Pakistan’s domestic cricketing scene in 2007. Improbably young, he was picked out as a special talent by Wasim Akram and over tours to New Zealand, Australia and England, he fixed a place for himself in international cricket as the hottest pace bowling prospect. The 2010 tour of England saw the best of him. Only eighteen years old, he took 19 wickets at an average of 18 to become the youngest bowler ever to take 50 Test wickets.

Mohammad Amir
Amir in the field on Pakistan’s fateful tour of England of 2010

Somewhere along the way he came under the influence of Salman Butt, then captain of the Pakistan team. During the Lord’s Test, Amir, Mohammed Asif and Butt agreed to deliberately bowl no-balls at set points during the match. They were exposed by a sting operation piloted by journalist Mazher Mahmood, and given a five-year suspension from all forms of cricket. But Mohammed Amir, whose ban is due to end in September 2015, could be making a dramatic return to international cricket against England next year.

Public response to this development has understandably been varied. But perhaps the most vehement opponent to Amir’s comeback is Rameez Raja, former Pakistani batsman and CEO of the Pakistan board. A sidelined victim of a similar match-fixing scandal in the 1990s, Raja criticizes Pakistani officials for refusing to acknowledge, act upon, or learn from shameful incidents: “smoking pot, fixing matches, using banned substances, forfeiting a Test match, biting a cricket ball, scuffing up the pitch on purpose, hitting a team-mate with a bat, and spot-fixing are some transgressions that elite Pakistan players have been guilty of in recent years.”

Raja argues that blatant cheating and poor governance in the Pakistani team are a direct result of weak management. He accuses officials of absolving Amir simply because of his young age, poor judgment, modest background and naivety; does this give millions of other underprivileged Pakistani boys a license to cheat to make a living?

In the past, cricketers have been banned for life for match fixing, cue Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Sharma and Salim Malik. After years of reparations on their cohesion and image, should Misbah-ul-Haq and his team make way for an exposed cheater?

In my opinion, yes. An offence is followed by a sentence, partly in order to deter others from committing the same crime. But what should follow is education and rehabilitation. It should be remembered that Amir admitted guilt from the beginning, unlike Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, who both claimed innocence until they had exhausted every legal process. Amir has also shown a high degree of remorse. In the last four years, he has completed an Anti Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) education program with the Pakistan Cricket Board and disclosed information to the PCB as well as the anti-corruption units. As observers have pointed out, we still don’t really know what underlying threats influenced Amir into cheating, but he was certainly a vulnerable junior in a very hierarchical environment.

Recently the PCB has lobbied for Amir to be allowed to play domestic cricket a certain period up from his ban coming to an end. The ICC has now granted this provision. ICC Chairman N Srinivasan said that this decision was taken following the consideration of a number of factors: “the level of remorse shown by the player, his/her cooperation with the ACSU’s education programme, and/or if the player has helped the ACSU by disclosing all information that, in turn, has helped it to enforce the anti-corruption code in respect of others engaged in corruption conduct.”

It seems the ICC agrees that Amir should be given a second chance in cricket. Aged just 22, he could still enjoy a long career. “I know how difficult it has been for me to stay away from cricket for the last four years and I have learnt my lesson. But I never gave up hope of making a return after my ban ends,” Amir has said.

But things will be slightly different this time round. “All eyes will be on me and I have to prove this with my performance, my attitude, my behaviour,” Amir admits. “Pressure obviously will be there because I will be getting a new life so I have to play my cricket positively. It’s different because this time I won’t be playing for myself, I will be playing for the fans of cricket, and not only for Pakistani fans but all those around the world who followed me, supported me.”

Amir has the opportunity to help clean up fixing in sport, and he must do so while taking total ownership of his role. He must be allowed back into cricket to be able to set that kind of an example. And a rejuvenated Amir will not be an attractive prospect for England’s batsmen next year, especially if he is able to rediscover the form he was in before his ban. Now that would be a tour worth following.

Photograph: commons.wikimedia

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