The last time Mohammad Amir walked off the Lord’s cricket ground, it was in disgrace. After an underwhelming performance by the team in England, the left-arm fast bowler was implicated in allegations of spot-fixing for bowling two deliberate no balls on August 26, 2011. An undercover video of the Pakistan cricket team members accepting bribes from a bookmaker made international headlines, and they were subsequently questioned by Scotland Yard. Along with captain Salman Butt and right-arm bowler Mohammad Asif, Amir pleaded guilty on the verdict handed out by the International Cricket Council (ICC). He was convicted in November 2011 and banned from playing for five years. He was just 18 years old at the time. The promising career of a young bowler, compared to Wasim Akram – the Sultan of Swing – so early on in his career, was forever tarnished.
The Gujjar Khan native had played his first international match during the 2009 ICC World Twenty20, and had a big role in winning the tournament for Pakistan. At the time of his ban, he had played a total of 14 Test matches, 15 ODIs and 18 T20 matches. On January 29, 2015, Amir was allowed an early return to domestic cricket and played several matches at home as part of his rehabilitation under the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). More significantly, he played for the Karachi Kings in the Pakistan Super League, taking seven wickets, including a hat-trick, in a match against the Lahore Qalandars.
Nearly six years after the scandal – in his first international match, his return to international cricket and his return to the historic Lord’s ground, coming full circle – Amir (now a young man of 24 years of age) struck the last wicket and won the first of the Test series against England in July 2016. According to the head coach, Amir was so nervous that he could not even grasp the ball properly. By the end of the match, however, the cricketer was able to grin victoriously, his arms spread wide open as he sprinted across the pitch; his fellow teammates cheering him on while the crowd roared. Other than helping secure victory for Pakistan, Amir was able to secure his place back in international cricket.
There was one word used by cricket commentators and writers over and over again to describe Amir’s comeback: redemption.
In the subcontinent, when politicians perform poorly, the go-to word on the street is “corruption”. The same holds true for cricketers. Cricket’s association with match-fixing has been around for more than two decades. Since then, allegations of match-fixing and spot-fixing have been common, but the actions taken to curb the menace were previously inconsistent and sporadic. In Amir’s case, the evidence was just too overwhelming to overlook. Arrest and imprisonment were seen as the only remedies.
While the other two players got much longer bans, the court (and public perception) was more lenient towards Amir due to his age and his underprivileged background. Judge Jeremy Cooke, who tried the trio in England, said that Amir received a reduced sentence due to his background — “unsophisticated, uneducated and impressionable”. Others, however, were less sympathetic. Kevin Pietersen, for example, wrote an article for The Telegraph arguing that anyone caught in match-fixing should be banned for life. “If you cheat the system either by taking drugs or money to under-perform then you are mugging the spectators, your teammates and a sport that has been around a lot longer than you,” Pietersen stated.
The sport may have been around longer than this player, but Amir’s predicament is much larger than his own career. There is a concern whether his relatively lenient punishment has set a bad precedent: should a convicted felon be allowed to represent his country on an international level? Or were the PCB and the international authorities justified in accepting him back into the national team? Does everyone deserve a second chance?
This was originally published in the Herald's August 2016 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.