So, Mohammad Amir is back playing professional cricket. Just as swiftly as that, he’s back playing international cricket – the sheepish looking wunderkid who hooped it round English corners in 2010 and overstepped to order in return for money and acceptance. The curtains that swept across his teenage face are gone, along with his innocence.
He’s just a poor boy from a poor family; spare him his life from this monstrosity.
So sang Queen. So sang many observers when Amir, alongside his then international captain Salman Butt and teammate Mohammad Asif, were sent down to serve time at Her Majesty’s pleasure at Southwark Crown Court. It was doubtless a tragic tale. A young man with the world at his feet, in awe of his captain and no doubt pressured by the quick-fix financial gain on offer in return for sending down two deliberately timed no-balls.
Easy money. Very easy money. In fact, thinking about it: well, everyone would at least think about it. The game wasn’t fixed and the outcome remained at the mercy of the performances of England and Pakistan. What harm was done?
Lord’s in 2010 was the time that spot fixing went mainstream. Everyone knew about match fixing – thanks Hansie Cronje and co – but spot fixing was a new phenomenon for the online gambling age.
Sympathy, at the time and even now, was in short supply for Butt and, in particular, Asif. Asif always had a certain air of arrogance about him. Often seen puffing on a cigarette and a purveyor of fine leather jackets, he had an air of the bad guy about him at the best of times. But Amir was just a boy in a man’s world. A poor boy, at that.
He’s done his time. They all have. But Amir is the only one back playing for Pakistan. It has not been a universally popular decision. Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali have taken stands against his return. Hafeez spoke of the pain of playing for his country under a cloud of suspicion that was created by the actions of Amir. Pakistan cricket was paying the price, he argued, whilst the perpetrators were out of the picture. Pakistan’s reputation as a cricketing nation was dragged through the mud and it was severely embarrassed. Humiliated, really. Amir is a beacon of that humiliation.
I was unsure of Amir’s recent return to play for Pakistan. On the one hand, he has done his time and served out all of the rehabilitation frameworks asked of him. I live in a society of second chances; if someone does wrong, they do their punishment and they get another chance. That’s fair.
On the other hand, as Kevin Pietersen pointed out on this very subject, no player is bigger than the sport. Amir sought to profit from cricket by cheating it. That is totally unacceptable.
This isn’t a problem isolated to just cricket, either. Cycling, for example, is emerging from a damn near crippling drug crisis that brought down its biggest name, Lance Armstrong. The riders of today are facing the questions that have arisen because of Armstrong and co – witness the media storm around Chris Froome’s 2015 Tour de France victory. Was he clean? The doubt hasn’t been created by Froome, but he’s the one facing it.
Whilst the perpetrators remain in the sport, it is impossible to remove the stain of corruption and cheating. Look at someone like Justin Gatlin. Those questions will never go away as long as he’s competing in the 100 metres and 200 metres. He juiced up, he’s a cheat. But he’s back.
What example has Amir set for cricket? He cheated, got banned and now he is back in the Pakistan team, making a living out of the game that he actively and knowingly defrauded.
Amir has done his time. He went to prison and is now a free man. He can be a productive member of society. But does he deserve a second chance from cricket? If he was banned from playing the game professionally ever again, it wouldn’t infringe on his human rights. It would also show to other players that the penalty is exclusion, that there is no way back from defrauding the game.
Cricket is both unimportant enough to remove from Amir’s life, yet too important to have him back.
I am still undecided, as you can probably tell from the confused nature of this rambling. I believe firmly in second chances. But I also love cricket, dearly. Its very reputation has been tarnished and its integrity questioned, and that integrity will always be questioned so long as Amir is playing. It always has been and always will be, a sorry lose-lose situation. But who is the biggest loser? The sport or the cheat?
By Miles Reucroft