The villain’s return

November 23, 2014

Pakistan’s cricket authorities will have to keep a strict, vigilant eye on Mohammad Amir when he returns to domestic action possibly early next year

The villain’s return

It’s a tempting idea. The comeback boy - Mohammad Amir - spearheading Pakistan’s pace attack in their ‘home’ series against England next October. And it’s likely to become a reality as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has been pushing hard in its bid to enable the disgraced fast bowler to return to action as soon as possible.

But is it a good idea?

The clear-headed Ramiz Raja has recently raised a serious objection and has questioned the wisdom behind PCB’s efforts to earn Amir a reprieve.

Ramiz certainly has a point.

After all, Amir did commit a major offence and was duly punished along with his partners in crime - Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt. It is true that Amir was young but he wasn’t stupid or naïve when he struck a deal with the devil. He was once a hero who fell from grace, bringing a bad name not just to Pakistan but to cricket itself.

So Ramiz is right in questioning as to why the PCB is so keen to have him back in the fold. In any case, Amir’s five-year ban will end next September and the bowler, who is still 22, would have had plenty of time to get back in full flow for international cricket possibly in early 2016. He will still be a young man then.

So what was the need to campaign for an early Amir return?

From where I see it, there has been an influential section in Pakistan’s cricket officialdom that always saw Amir as more of a victim than a culprit. There are many key officials maintaining a soft corner for the lanky bowler, who rose from modest roots to become the most exciting young thing on world cricket horizon. But it was only when Najam Sethi became PCB chairman last year that the Board really started making concrete efforts to pave the path for Amir’s international comeback. He lobbied with the ICC and in the end managed to find a bit of a reprieve when the game’s governing body revised its anti-corruption code earlier this month.

Amir needs to do away with the Mafioso style. He will need to look and act the part - the part of a young, disgraced athlete on the path to redemption.

Sethi and the PCB fought Amir’s case in the belief that he has endured his punishment both in the form of a jail term and an ICC ban and now deserved a second chance. Fair enough but the onus is now on the PCB to make sure that its move doesn’t backfire. By aligning himself with match-fixers, Amir has sullied himself and even after serving his punishment that stain will not go away, at least not completely. Once he returns, I fear that Amir will remain a subject of jeers from his opponent and suspicion from his team-mates. Such treatment might make the player stronger and motivate him to give his best. But it might also force him to turn rogue, once again.

Amir’s comeback is going to be a gamble. Once recalled for national duty, he will become a prime subject for all the media attention. Even a slight misdemeanour won’t go unnoticed.

Pakistan’s cricket authorities will have to keep a strict, vigilant eye on the disgraced pacer when he returns to domestic action possibly early next year. They should leave no stone unturned in their bid to prepare Amir for his much-anticipated comeback. I’m not talking about cricketing preparations. That I’m sure won’t be a problem for the vastly-talented Amir. I’m talking about preparing him to be mentally strong enough to handle the media, rival teams and even a possible backlash in the dressing room.

Amir should also be told in clear words that he will need to stay clean. By clean I mean that he will need to become a role model both on and off the field. During his rise and fall as a cricketing star, Amir developed a taste for life in the fast lane. That cannot continue. He also needs to do away with the Mafioso style. A proper haircut and a new wardrobe should help. The thing is that he will need to look and act the part — the part of a young, disgraced athlete on the path to redemption. With the Board providing its complete support, I’m hopeful that Amir can achieve this goal.

Meanwhile, in Dubai it seems that the honeymoon is over for Pakistan. They came across as rampaging opponents during the two-Test series against Australia in the UAE and later in the first Test against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi. The hosts recorded big, comprehensive wins in the three Tests to silence even the most bitter of their critics. There were expectations that Pakistan would settle for nothing less than a 3-0 whitewash against the New Zealanders but a mere flip of the coin has caused a major change in the script.

After getting lucky on both occasions against Michael Clarke and then winning the toss against Brendon McCullum in Abu Dhabi, Misbah-ul-Haq and his team reaped the rewards. They batted first on all three occasions and dominated the Tests. But in Dubai, McCullum won the toss and chose to bat. His team managed a sizeable score and Pakistan were unable to underline the fact that they were the better team on the ground. In the end, they were even unable to take a shot at a seemingly gettable victory target and had to settle for a draw. The result must have felt almost like victory for the tourists. For Pakistan, it should have come like a defeat. After all, they were on a roll and playing in favourable conditions against a side that isn’t rated highly in the Test format.

The villain’s return