Mohammad Amir – A victim of circumstance

Mohammad Amir will return to England this summer, likely to play a pivotal role in an international test series for Pakistan against a team now just one place behind them in the ICC Test rankings. The start of the series has been shrouded in the scandal surrounding Mohammad Amir’s return to Test cricket.

5th February 2011, Mohammad Amir along with senior compatriots Mohammad Asif and Salmon Butt (Pakistan captain) were found guilty of spot fixing and given bans fromnball first class cricket of 5, 7 and 10 years respectively. The ban was given following an article in the News of the World alleging that Amir and Asif bowled deliberate no-balls on the Pakistan tour of England in return for payment from a betting syndicate headed by Mazhar Majeed, a British sporting agent and bookmaker.

The debate amongst pundits, former players, current players and fans is whether Amir should be allowed to represent his country having cheated previously.

He was given a 6 month prison sentence as well as a 5 year ban from international cricket. Following the trial in which he was found guilty he was handcuffed. In an interview with Sky Sports in 2012 he recounted the events:

When they put the handcuffs on I looked down at my bowling hand and started crying. At this point I did not think I would ever play cricket again, and vowed never to think about cricket.

If you look at the punishment as one for an international sportsman who knew exactly what he was doing in cheating his country and the game of cricket then it seems fair, if not a bit lax. However, if you consider  the punishment as one for an 18 year old who was browbeaten into bowling a no-ball in one test match, having resisted previous advances from his more senior team-mates, it seems severe.

The problems were initiated when Amir was introduced to a friend of Salmon Butt, a businessman he knew as ‘Ali’. He asked for Amir’s bank details without telling him why. He was then told by Majeed, the bookmaker, that his career was ‘at stake’ following a series of text messages between Ali and himself. The text messages sent from Amir to Ali did seem to suggest he was asked to involve himself in spot fixing in the test match before he bowled the no-balls, at the Oval. They read:

yes; yes what; for how much; but what needs to be done; it would be too much friend; so in the first 3 bowl whatever you like and in the last 2 do 8 runs

Amir at no stage received any money from Ali.

It was at this point, with the fear of a report being sent to the ICC concealing the details of the conversations between Amir and Ali, that Majeed and Butt persuaded Amir to bowl 2 no-balls at specific points in the Test match at Lords. Butt, his captain and role model, encouraged Amir to practice his no-balls and exclaimed the cheating as ‘not a big deal’. Amir, in his interview with Sky Sports, remembered that his overriding feeling was that Butt was ‘helping him to get out of a tricky situation’.

However, Amir is of course not innocent, and was well aware of what he was doing:

I knew it was unfair to cricket, because it is cheating. No matter how small the dishonest deed is, at the end of the day cheating is cheating.

121163Between the test match at Lords and the eventual trial in England, Amir, along with Butt and Asif, proclaimed his innocence. The fear of what might happen had now become a reality, and still Amir could not emerge from the shadow that the so-called senior, elite, experienced cricketers in the Pakistani team had cast over him.

I hope that the crowds in England will enjoy Amir’s return to Test cricket and remember that he was one of the most gifted seam bowlers to be seen on a debut tour of England.  Mohammad Amir was a victim of his own inexperience coupled with circumstances that found him amongst a group of cheats. Let’s not punish him further for a stupid mistake made in an extraordinarily toxic atmosphere.