It was in August 2010 that Mohammad Amir bowled the most talked about no-ball in recent times. There was much about Amir that was atypical. For a young man, he had great understanding of his craft. For someone striving for pace, he had great control of line and length. For a fast bowler, he was delightfully a thinking cricketer, setting up batsmen and picking them off rather than blowing them away.
If he returns to major cricket on Friday, January 15, it will end one of the most remarkable exiles in the history of the game and cap a return hardly anyone thought was possible. Why, a sizeable group believed, and still believe, that his return was not merely impossible but unwelcome.
If Pakistan do field Amir, and there’s every indication that this will happen, in their Twenty20 International against New Zealand in Auckland, it will be a watershed moment for cricket. At 23, Amir is still young enough to treat the game as a debut, despite having 47 international appearances already in the bag. Amir insists he has changed, that he has learnt from his mistakes, and most importantly is going to bring an honest approach to the game.
In the past, cricket has dealt completely ineffectively with those suspected of or found guilty of match-fixing. Around the world, there are tainted cricketers who barely suffered for their transgressions, merely having their reputations temporarily sullied before returning to the game as coaches, administrators, pundits. Why some have been so successfully rehabilitated they have gone on to become prominent public figures.
In comparison, Amir has paid his dues. Although it is worth pointing out that he did not immediately admit guilt, Amir came around quickly enough for him to be dealt with in an appropriate manner. He went to jail, copped a five-year ban after a robust process of examination and judgment and cooperated with authorities in every manner that could be reasonably expected of him.
There are those that believe that match-fixers have no place in cricket, and, of course, this is true. But what about reformed match-fixers? There is little evidence to suggest that Amir is still bent, and surely no bookie in his right mind will approach him now, knowing just what kind of scrutiny is in place. In societies that let murderers out of jail after they have done their time, and give juvenile rapists a sewing machine and cash to reboot their lives after time served, how much outrage and anger can reasonably be reserved for someone who merely manipulated certain passages of play in a bat and ball game?
Cricket needs Amir’s rehabilitation to work, simply because it will be the first time it has dealt with its most dangerous affliction in an effective manner. If Amir has changed all that was wrong about him, and yet managed to retain the core of what was good about him in a cricketing sense, he will serve as a shining example to other youngsters who might be mixed up in the wrong company. Cricketers who follow will know that even if they were honey-trapped or blackmailed into crossing over into the dark side, there is a chance at redemption if they do the right things before it is too late. Cricketers will have faith that the game does not turn its back on those who want to serve it genuinely and sincerely, and that the alternative, however unedifying, is not the only way forward.
The manner in which Amir bowled in the Bangladesh Premier League was a sight for sore eyes. A wiry, lithe, supple left-arm genuine quick, running in with athletic rhythm, coiling up tautly and releasing the ball with a fluent, metronomically pretty action, wrist flexed just so was a thing of beauty. If Wasim Akram, the maestro of this art form, made the ball sing, at least Amir gets it to talk in an era when bowlers struggle to have a say in batting slugfests.
Amir has admitted that team-mates were perfectly justified in having misgivings about his return, and has talked about the importance of winning back the love and support of fans. That can happen only through playing and Amir know the debt he owes can only be repaid by giving joy to those he once betrayed.
When Amir returns, justice would have been done, within the framework that exists to deal with match-fixing in society and in cricket. To suggest that he should never be allowed to play again, is looking for retribution, not justice, and cricket needs to rise above that.