15 July, 2016

Mohammad Amir Returns

By Kartikeya Date

Don't think be deluded into thinking Mohammad Amir was prosecuted for causing the noble game the blushes. His crime was rocking the boat for private interests in the business of cricket.
Very few human beings in the history of the world have bowled as fast and as well as Mohammad Amir could by the age of 18. By then, Amir had been through multiple back injuries and a nearly fatal bout of dengue fever. The first time he met the then Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson, he was 16, attending an under-19 camp. He was delayed by three hours because the Taliban had closed the highway. An introduction to the great Wasim Akram came courtesy the former Pakistan all-rounder Mudassar Nazar, at the end of which Akram pronounced the teenager “ready to play for Pakistan”. He was duly picked and made his Test debut at Galle in 2009.
Amir got a wicket in his first over. It was a classic fast bowler’s dismissal. Steep bounce and sharp inward movement cramped the opener Malinda Warnapura for room and his hurried stab resulted in an inside edge onto his stumps. In the next over, the other opener, Tharanga Paranavitana, was dropped at third slip. In the third over of his Test career, Amir dismissed the great Kumar Sangakkara, caught at third slip, poking at a ball delivered on perfect length just outside off stump. In his fourth, Pakistan’s notoriously unreliable wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal spilt a routine caught-behind chance from Mahela Jayawardene.
Amazingly enough, Amir topped this epic beginning to his Test career in the very next innings. In his second spell, with Sri Lanka relatively safe at 81/2, Amir ran through Paranavitana, Jayawardene and Sangakkara in three consecutive overs to reduce them to 101/5.
Despite the heart of their batting having been dismantled by Amir twice in the match, Sri Lanka went on to win by 50 runs after Pakistan were shot out by Rangana Herath for 117, chasing 168 in the 4th innings.
Unlike all the other more common forms of cheating, fixing contains within it the despicable element of treason, to the game, to their bosses, to their fans
For his first 14 Tests, Amir toured Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia, and England, and took 51 wickets at a cost of 29 runs each — a stellar return for any bowler in this era. Cricket fans all over the world looked forward to the prospect of a stellar career as an elite fast bowler. On August 29, 2010, all these hopes were dashed. The News Of The Worldreported that three Pakistan players had agreed to, and delivered no-balls to orderin the then ongoing Test at The Oval. Mohammad Amir was one of them.
Of all the different types of cheating endemic to top-level sport (professional appeals, claiming bump balls as catches, appealing to put pressure on the umpire, not walking, throwing the return to the ‘keeper hard and right past the batsman’s nose, ball-tampering, fudging descriptions of ball-tampering by describing a picture of a bowler with his studs on the ball as “stopping the ball with one’s foot”, taking huge starts at the non-striker’s end and then complaining that bowlers who mankad non-strikers are not acting within the spirit of the game), fixing — spots in matches or entire matches — is the rarest one. It is also one which perpetrators of all the other more common forms of cheating consider to be beyond the pale. This because, unlike all the other more common forms of cheating, fixing contains within it the despicable element of treason (or at least, as in the case of spot-fixing, disinterest to the game).
It is not the dishonesty that is so repellant about spot-fixing, but the treason. Players who fix spots are traitors to the game, to their bosses, and to their fans. As nearly every spectator sport in the world shows, a team’s fans are perfectly happy to back their own dirty players, but not the opposition’s. As long as a player cheats to help his team, there is even a certain nobility associated with it.
As Pakistan prepare to face England in the first Test at Lord’s on July 14, the papers have been full of discussions about whether or not Amir deserves to be there. The mainstream consensus appears to be that Amir has completed the punishment that was awarded to him and ought to be welcomed back into the international game. The quality of his bowling leaves little doubt that he belongs at the highest level.
Whether he will survive the rigours of a full Test series remains to be seen, but his case should be considered the same way that any other player’s would be.
The Judge who sentenced the three players — Amir, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif — concluded that Butt and Mazhar Majeed were the architects of the fixing operations and blamed captain Butt for corrupting Amir. Amir was described by the judge as an “unsophisticated, uneducated, impressionable” youngster from an impoverished background.
If you think Amir cheated the sport and went to prison, you are wrong. What he did was, in the eyes of the cricketing establishment, far worse. He cheated the business. That’s why he went to prison. Now he’s back to serve the business
As someone who supports the idea that sport is a public good, and that great societies are also great sporting societies, the fact that the 18-year-old Amir went to a notoriously violent juvenile prison for little more than being gullible in the wrong place at the wrong time does not sit well with me. Now, after the fact, it is all very well to say that Amir has served his time and the matter is done. But there is a reckoning that the game and its fans have to deal with as well.
While sentencing the players, the judge observed: “You procured the bowling of three no-balls for money, to the detriment of your national cricket team, with the object of enabling others to cheat at gambling. Now, whenever people look back on a surprising event in a game or a surprising result or whenever there are surprising events or results, followers of the game who have paid good money to watch it live or to watch it on TV, in the shape of licence money or TV subscriptions, will be led to wonder whether there has been a fix and whether what they have been watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball. What ought to be honest sporting competition may not be such at all.”
The criminal prosecution and convictionwas for conspiracy to cheat at gambling and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments. Spot-fixing isn't a crime. When a player tries to hit a six because the crowd demands it, he's disregarding the team's interests as much as Amir did, but the crowd isn't paying him specifically to do it — there's no explicit material interest at stake for that single action. Professional sportsmen say all the time that they aim to "entertain the public". Negative cricket is criticised because it fails to do so, even though, as a rational sporting strategy it probably makes more sense than being attacking.
In other words, spot-fixing became a crime because there was money involved. If Amir had bowled that no-ball at the behest of a friend but accepted no money or any other material gifts, it would not have been a crime, even though the consequences to the game would have been identical. The UK Crime Prosecution Service got involved because cricket is a private business, not because cricket is a public sport. The problem was that Amir and the others were involved with money exchanging hands in ways which were not sanctioned by the professional sport. It was that the players were dishonest in unacceptable ways. The problem was disloyalty, not dishonesty.
If you think Amir cheated the sport and went to prison, you are wrong. What he did was, in the eyes of the cricketing establishment, far worse. He cheated the business. That’s why he went to prison. Now he’s back to serve the business. Hopefully, he is no longer gullible enough or embittered enough to cheat it again. And hopefully, we are not gullible enough to look at Amir as if he is someone who is being done a huge favour by being allowed back in the international arena.

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