The sporting world’s attention is riveted on Mohammad Amir’s compelling comeback even though on Friday, for starters, the stats did not quite do justice to the immensely gifted fast bowler’s lonely return. Two sitters were put down just as he threatened to rev up nostalgia. And yet, a more emotional moment in recent sporting history would be hard to recall.
Come to think of it, emotion is written all over the Amir story. From overstepping the mark intentionally at Lord’s in 2010 which snipped the fairytale rise of arguably, the world’s finest fast bowler at 18 like a brute censor scissor to marking his run-up at Eden Park almost five-and-a-half years later, it has the trappings of a great sequel.
As his date with destiny continues today in Hamilton, there is no dearth of both appeal and revulsion on the second coming, which is what fuels the tantalising possibility of what many had deemed impossible: the road to redemption. Ironically, Amir has found more support abroad than at home.
Led by former captain and commentator Rameez Raja, Amir found himself teetering on the edge of selection after his ODI captain Azhar Ali and ex-skipper Mohammed Hafeez refused to even train with him, the former even tendering his resignation before being persuaded otherwise.
We haven’t seen the last of the naysayers; of this, one can be sure. Also conceivable is the sarcasm Amir will cop for the rest of his life whether he manages to turn the page or not, for, that is the nature of the beast.
Amir’s vow to win back hearts with wickets and love is only to be expected from someone who lost the time of his life to a stupid call. But will those calling for permanent time on the international career of a young man, who seeks redemption — what else is the purpose of punishment, you wonder — also take a moment to reflect if it is morally right to render him an outcast after meeting the ends of justice?
Having said that, a second chance, and a tilt at redemption, is not for everyone. Amir knows it full well. Last September, when the ICC let Amir and the PCB know he was free to fly again, he didn’t forget to thank former England captain Mike Atherton, who like many of his English contemporaries in the commentariat, themselves betrayed some sentiment at the cruel twist in the tale when they pushed for leniency.
Former off-spinner Vic Marks even waxed philosophical, asking mournfully, if people before hadn’t committed a sin or two before life hadn’t fully opened up yet.
This came as a bit of a surprise considering England and Pakistan have rarely enjoyed a moment of bliss in the cricketing realm: To put it frankly, their history is cast in a certain ‘no-love-lost’ mould. From umpire kidnapping to terse suggestions of sending mother-in-laws on all-expenses paid trips, a lot of abstract exchanges from Sir Geoffrey Boycott to Sir Ian Botham and Mike Gatting to Shakoor Rana litter the la-la land.
While the English team and media was understandably aghast following the spot fixing revelations — a sordid tale compounded by ridiculous counterclaims made by the-then Pakistan Cricket Board chief Ijaz Butt at the English team’s expense when he was asked to pull out the offending players — the sympathy for Amir because of his age and mitigating circumstances provided an interesting contrast.
The other two offenders, Salman Butt, who was the captain, and Mohammad Asif, a habitual offender, have never received an iota of the sympathy accorded to Amir to this day, and for reasons too well known to bear repetition.
“Mike Atherton is someone whose words and support really inspired me. I’ve been given a second opportunity. Sometimes in life you don’t get a second chance, but I want to make the most of this second life I have been given,” Amir said of the former English captain, who is amongst several former greats waiting to see him in action again, almost as if he belonged to them, not the stage.
More recently, Amir found unlikely support from New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, who said the pacer should be given a second chance and that he had no qualms playing against him.
"He was a very young man at the time and he's gone through a sound rehabilitation programme," McCullum told AP. "If he gets out on the field against us, then you play against the man you're playing against, not a man who may have made some mistakes as a youngster."
New Zealand Cricket chief David White also put things into perspective. "He was a very, very young man, a boy really. He showed remorse at the time, admitted to it," White said. "I'm personally comfortable with him coming to New Zealand and playing."
On Friday, Amir cut a lonely figure with no team mate backslapping him for bowling well or even sympathising at the spilled chances. May be, a few quick breakthroughs will instill a more humane spirit.
Everyone deserves a second chance.
- The writer is senior journalist based in Islamabad.