Redemption

It was the evening of Saturday, 28 August, 2010, and those who call themselves The Barmy Army were raising their glasses and basking in the glory of witnessing a record eighth wicket partnership for the England cricket team.

A remarkable stand of 332 between the obdurate Jonathan Trott and the airy Stuart Broad had effectively secured a Test series victory over Pakistan at Lord’s, but that achievement would be shamefully overshadowed by harmful revelations that brought severe damage to the integrity of the match – and indeed the sport.

For the top news item across all the networks as that sunny day drew to a close depicted a sting by the now defunct News of the World newspaper. Secretly recorded footage showed undercover reporters from the tabloid – which would fold less than a year later due to the phone hacking scandal – being informed that deliberate no-balls would be bowled by the Pakistan team at specific points during England’s innings.

Receiving money for his troubles, bookmaker Mazher Majeed stated that Mohammad Amir would bowl a no-ball on the first ball of the third over, and that his colleague Mohammad Asif would do likewise for the sixth ball of the 10th over. And hey presto! Both illegal deliveries took place.

When the story broke and the footage from the News of the World and the two no-balls in question was released, the initial reaction among the cricketing community was shock and disbelief mingled with fury. Everybody, from the England team to the casual observer, felt cheated and deceived by greed, and an underhand spot-fixing operation.

There was a palpable sense of mistrust between the two sets of players when the on-field action resumed the following morning, as the match became secondary to the overriding issue. For their part, Pakistan fell apart as if the whole affair and its subsequent exposure had made them obliged to bow to submission, but England seldom celebrated an innings victory and 3-1 series success.

As more information of the sting became public knowledge, three of the Pakistan players were implicated. Amir and Asif were clearly at fault having bowled the two offending deliveries, while team captain Salman Butt seemed to carry the greatest degree of responsibility.

Of the three, Amir was the one who received the sharpest focus from the media microscope, largely due to his tender years. Aged just 18, the left-arm seamer had quickly developed a reputation as one of the most gifted young bowlers in world cricket, taking numerous wickets over the series through his precocious level of accuracy.

Many felt he had been roped into the operation by his more senior teammates, yet sympathy was scarce as his actions had helped bring his sport into serious disrepute. So instead of helping his country fight for major honours on the international stage, Amir joined Asif and Butt in receiving a prison sentence, and a lengthy ban from cricket.

He was released within a matter of months, but he was horribly tainted and given how notable the case had become, the whole affair never seemed to go away. But everyone knew there would come a time when Amir would be eligible to play professional cricket again; the question was whether he would be welcomed back into the fold.

That time finally came in September 2015. His ability was never in doubt; he was still only 23 years old, meaning that he still potentially had over a decade to forge a highly successful career. The wickets soon arrived, triggering calls for him to be reintegrated into the Pakistan national setup.

Once that inevitable call arrived in January 2016, he immediately found himself in desperate need of proving his integrity to the rest of the squad amid a backdrop of mistrust and suspicion. Senior figures such as Azhar Ali and Mohammad Hafeez initially refused to train alongside Amir, threatening to render him an outcast.

The doubts were rife, but Amir’s reformed attitude shone through, as the youthful innocence that some felt had been taken away by Majeed’s scheme returned to mark a new beginning. He still had to prove himself on the world stage, taking part in the ICC World Twenty20 event and producing some standout performances for the Karachi Kings in the Pakistan Super League.

Fittingly, his return to Test cricket brought him back to the scene of those indiscretions some six years previously as Pakistan toured England for the first time since that fateful occasion.

Predictably cast as the pantomime villain, loud ironic cheers were audible from the stands whenever he bowled a no-ball. However, he handled his comeback in an impressively understated manner. His performances were decent if unspectacular, yet he approached the occasion with maturity and thus began his route back to the top of the game.

That was the springboard which has helped him go on to hit the headlines for all the right reasons, collecting a career-best 6-44 against the West Indies earlier this year, and extending that prowess to all three formats, playing a starring role as Pakistan upset the odds to win the ICC Champions Trophy just last Sunday.

Having lost hopelessly to India in their first match, Pakistan were widely written off as no-hopers, but quickly went about confounding such views as they won three matches in a row – including against hosts England – in order to reach the final, with Amir instrumental.

But it was in the final itself where he really showed his true class. It was a rematch with India, and after a terrific batting display from Fakhar Zaman helped his team set their arch rivals 339 runs to win, Amir ran through the Indian top order with a spell of unerring and deadly accuracy.

The first three Indian batsman – Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli – had been in imperious form throughout the tournament, but Amir removed them all in devastating style, and from then on a Pakistan victory was never in doubt.

As the scenes of jubilation began, the victory marked redemption for Amir. He cannot turn back time; the seriousness of his actions back in 2010 can never be refuted, but such naivety has been consigned somewhat to history as he grabs his second chance with both hands.

The Witch’s Familiar

It is difficult to think of too many words in the English language with such differing perceptions than ‘witch’. Although they may be creations of mere fantasy, witches are commonly portrayed and depicted as evil villains with quirky, though sinister powers, while in some literary cases they are treated with a greater degree of warmth and reverence.

Let’s begin first by comparing the words ‘witch’ and ‘wizard’. On first inspection, these would be nothing more than male and female equivalents, but wizards have traditionally been viewed as wise, sage-like individuals with maybe a hint of a mischievous streak. They predominantly use their power for good, and their portrayal in literature and in the media throughout the centuries has made them appear like amiable men who just happen to possess magical powers.

With witches come plenty more baggage. They have regularly been stereotyped to be middle-aged women who own cats, take broomsticks out for a joy ride, and contain powers of unearthly proportions. They are treated with the utmost suspicion and wariness, perhaps inspired by their supposed persecution in medieval times.

‘Witch’ is a word commonly used to describe an unreasonable or disagreeable woman, whereas calling somebody a ‘wizard’ suggests that they are gifted at a particular subject or activity; or possess some kind of unique quality.

Such usage is further extended in artistic works as notable as The Wizard Of Oz. The eponymous wizard is described as a wonderful ‘wiz of a wiz’, who lives in the glitzy emerald city. Meanwhile, the story also contains the Wicked Witch of the West and the Wicked Witch of the East, the primary antagonists who have evil character traits and so don’t compare well.

The use of witches for the purposes of fictional villainy continue in another classic 20th century work; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The arch-nemesis on this occasion is the White Witch, who, while rarely displaying an array of special powers, creates a miserable, despotic landscape and is intent on permanent rule.

This all stems from old-fashioned beliefs and practices, but doesn’t explain why wizards have not been subjected to the same unflattering treatment of their female counterparts. Here is a background of how attitudes towards sorcery have developed and manifested themselves during bygone eras:

Fear of so-called witches was rife during a period of history where figures in authority were innately suspicious of any signs of abnormality. The very notion of magical powers was feared greatly, leading to those accused of being witches facing capital punishment, often through drowning, or being burned at the stake.

The desperation of historical communities to eliminate ‘witches’ was such that hundreds of innocent women were put to death. This reached its peak in the 17th century during the bizarre reign of Matthew Hopkins, where a range of peculiar tests were carried out to theoretically uncover the true nature of unfortunate victims.

Hopkins christened himself as England’s very own Witch-finder General, an unofficial title to pronounce his supposed aptitude for tracking down ‘witches’ and bringing them to justice. A man of fairly humble origin, Hopkins gained nationwide recognition during the English Civil War, making a career through his hypothesis that any woman that floats on water *must* be a witch.

This entire campaign embodies the attitudes surrounding witchcraft during that era, but perhaps recent literature might also have been a factor. A little over 30 years previously, William Shakespeare had produced his darkest and most thought-provoking of plays, where witches feature prominently.

The three witches portrayed in Macbeth are both mysterious and powerful in equal measure. They have the capability to see into the future, and ultimately ensure that a violent series of events driven by temptation and a fierce yearning for power, plays out with typically tragic consequences.

They appear in the opening scene, visualising their next meeting, where Macbeth is also present. After the witches pronounce that he will shortly take the title of Thane of Cawdor and eventually become king of Scotland, Macbeth becomes intrigued by their powers, and they act as a driving force behind his gory actions during the rest of the play.

The portrayal of the witches throughout Macbeth is open to interpretation, but they are shown to be creatures that spread death and danger through their ability to prey upon fundamental human flaws. It is mixed with terrifying imagery such as the cauldron scene, where a clear distinction is made between the witches and the human characters.

It is a triumph for Shakespeare’s vivid imagination, but as the centuries have passed and witches have become recognised as as solely supernatural beings, their presence in formal adult literature has disappeared and they now reign supreme in children’s books, and other media.

Many of most renowned children’s authors of recent years have involved witches in their stories, and in most instances they are considerably more benign, yet some familiar traits remain. They still ride broomsticks; they still have creepy abilities to conjure harmful apparitions, and they are still treated with more suspicion than wizards.

Yet they are primarily characters of fun, as Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson proved with The Worst Witch and Room on the Broom respectively. However, one giant of children’s literature treated us to his own, entirely different interpretation.

The characterisation and features of The Witches in Roald Dahl’s award-winning book of the same name differs enormously from all that had gone before it. Dahl doesn’t hide from the fact that all witches are women, while he also creates a level of suspense which is rarely so prevalent in novels aimed towards an audience of children aged 13 and under.

Maybe that’s why the characterisation is so distinctive. Dahl’s witches share a hatred of children, and plot to neutralise them by any means possible. They use elaborate accessories to disguise their bald heads; clawed fingers, and square feet, and answer to the Grand High Witch.

The Grand High Witch personifies all the negative connotations surrounding witches. She is deceptive and ruthless, and possibly Dahl’s darkest creation. When she removes her mask to reveal a disembodied face, it represents another departure from the stereotypes.

However, at no point does Dahl discriminate between witch and wizard, and shows that the portrayal of such beings is open to interpretation. Now that it’s generally accepted that witches were not at large during the English Civil War and the preceding years, they have no clear definition. That many fictional witches have similar traits is simply a reinforcement of traditional inspirations.

We even see that in the world of video-gaming, where the primary antagonist in the Banjo-Kazooie series is a green-skinned witch called Gruntilda. At the opposite end of the spectrum alongside the likes of Dahl, we have dramatic portrayals in films like The Witches of Eastwick, who are three apparently normal women who discover underlying powers.

Sitting almost slap bang in the middle is the most notorious series of novels in recent times, the Harry Potter books. Author J.K. Rowling has created her own world, with its own unique and clearly defined identity, which has permanently altered the thinking behind how witches and wizards can be depicted in literature.

Aside from The Wizard of Oz, this is the only example within this article that offers the chance of direct comparison between the male and female characters. And on the whole, witches and wizards in Harry Potter are treated predominantly as equals.

Both witches and wizards practice in the Dark Arts; they both have equal rights to an education, and are shown to be just as gifted as each other. Even Quidditch is a level playing field, as teams are made up by both men and women.

The only slight disparity is the lack of women in the top jobs, such as at the Ministry of Magic, but on the whole, the fact that Hogwarts itself is shown to be founded by an equal number of witches and wizards (two each) states the parity that exists. Indeed, discrimination in Harry Potter is largely limited to bloodline, and prejudice towards magical creatures.

One line that sums up the amelioration of the word ‘witch’ appears in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. While escaping the campsite at the Quidditch World Cup, Harry and his friends run into Draco Malfoy, who informs them slyly that Hermione Granger may be at risk from the Death Eaters, who are in the act of persecuting Muggles.

‘Hermione’s a witch’, snarls Harry in response.

This may seem like a very unremarkable, average piece of dialogue; after all it is only three words long and may seem as though Harry is just stating a fact. However, the implication of this line shows that the state of being a witch is a good thing, something to be proud of.

To illustrate the point, to refer to somebody as a witch in most forms of literature and other media suggests that that character is evil and/or untrustworthy. As Harry and Hermione are clearly protagonists in this particular series, we know immediately that Harry’s remark is far from disparaging; indeed it is meant as a compliment.

And that sums up the journey that fictional witches have embarked on over time, as historic and medieval beliefs towards their supposed existence have become gradually more obsolete. The stereotypes still remain, and they are used for the purpose of entertainment and extravagance, but the wider range of depictions now in evidence provides a belief that they can obtain something close to equal footing with fictional wizards.