The ICC’s anti-corruption head, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, has used his discretionary powers to allow Mohammad Amir – Pakistan’s estranged fast-bowling sensation from 2010 – to return to domestic cricket. This happened after the ACSU and ICC, both, were satisfied with Amir’s cooperation in the spot-fixing case.
Apparently Amir will be playing grade-II cricket for Karachi Electric. It seems like this is the right time for the Pakistan Cricket Board to come up with a reintegration plan in case they have decided, in principle, that Amir deserves a second chance with the national team.
There are, of course, two sides to it. There is a camp, led by the likes of Ramiz Raja and General Tauqir Zia, which is against Amir’s inclusion in the national set-up. As blasphemous as my inner-self might think this is, Tauqir was at the helm of affairs when the match-fixing inquiries were hushed up in favour of a certain left-arm cricketing god. In fact, Tauqir wanted him to be captain for the 2003 World Cup. But let’s leave it at that.
Raja wrote a scathing article, saying he knew what it felt like to play on a team where others were involved in corrupt practices. So there is that – the trust factor. How do you bring someone like Amir back into the fold and expect his teammates to trust him like they trust each other. How do you ask a player like Azhar Ali, for example, to be sure that Amir will be giving his 100% on the field? How do you expect Amir to react when people question his next dropped catch?
These questions will come up, for sure.
This requires deft handling. Amir needs proper counseling to deal with almost everything and everyone: team mates, coaches, media, and, of course, his own performance and fitness levels. It might not be a bad idea to send him off to Mardan for a month’s mentorship program with the king of kings, Younus Khan.
The players and management also need to be counseled on how to react to Amir’s performances. Things can get heated in the Pakistan dressing room and Pakistanis can say a whole lot of awful things when emotions flare up. Just this once, they might need to be extra cautious.
The media will do what they do best: make use of every opportunity to bash everyone and anyone that they can get hold of. So Amir’s domestic performance will be monitored closely. If his extras column shows a wide or a no-ball, he will be asked the inevitable question: “Kya aaj ki yeh no-baaal ghalti se hui?” (Did you bowl that no-ball by mistake?)
On away tours – which is like all of Pakistan’s cricket – there will be references such as this one from Cricket Australia’s official Facebook page:
Hold on, I am not done. There is the precedent problem as well. Amir’s return means Butt and Asif will also be eligible once they serve out their bans. There is, however, a slight difference. Amir pleaded guilty. Butt and Asif did not. Their admission of guilt came in much later, once they had exhausted all possible avenues of getting away with their corrupt acts. So how does the board deal with Butt and Asif once their bans end?
Most importantly, Amir must not be rushed back into international cricket. This will damage Pakistan cricket, Amir, and the fans. Amir’s return should only be discussed once he has had a year or two of solid domestic cricket behind his back. Forget all the talk about losing him when he is going to be in his prime. The moment he takes a five-for in the next season, pundits will come out and support his return for the test matches against England and India. The PCB must avoid this at all costs.
I can’t forget Dilshan’s dismissal in the 2009 T20 World Cup final or those beauties that got Steven Smith and Mitchell Johnson at Headingley. There is another thing that I can’t forget. The fact remains that Amir caused me, and millions of fans like myself, irreparable loss. We missed out on Amir the cricketer. We missed out on potential Pakistan victories. We missed out on Pakistan cricket’s commercial value since the brand was obviously tainted. Most importantly, we – the fans – felt cheated. So here is the last question: how does Amir win back our confidence?