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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s