Mohammad Amir earns sympathy amid scandal
Former Pakistan captain, Ramiz Raja, and the former coach, Geoff Lawson, have both spoken out in defence of Mohammad Amir, Pakistan's 18-year-old fast bowler whose alleged involvement in the Lord's spot-fixing scandal is threatening to destroy his burgeoning career.
Amir was a revelation during the recent four-Test series against England, in which he collected 19 wickets at 18.36 and proved unplayable at times in helpful swinging conditions. He picked up consecutive five-wicket hauls in the final two Tests, including a career-best 6 for 84 in England's only innings at Lord's.
However, on the eve of the final day of the series, he was one of four players - along with his captain Salman Butt and fellow new-ball bowler Mohammad Asif - to be named by The News of the World in an alleged scam involving bowling no-balls to order, a situation that has led many commentators, including England's former captain, Michael Vaughan, to call for a life ban.
However, Ramiz and Lawson both expressed sympathy for Amir, and believed the greater blame lay with the men who had led him astray so early in his career. "To see an 18-year old boy being dragged into the controversy is the worse part," Ramiz told Cricinfo. "He had the world, everyone was raving about the talent and praising him. It is such a sad moment in cricket.
"Amir comes from a humble background," Ramiz said. "He is 18, with an impressionable mind, and if he has been keeping bad company, it's possible he could have been drawn [into wrongdoing]. But if that's the case, then the guys who got him in should be put behind bars because they've spoilt a grand career. They've infiltrated and spoilt a young mind, and it's such a shocking state of affairs."
Lawson, who coached Pakistan for 15 months between July 2007 and October 2008, said: "For me, it would be a great tragedy if a young man such as Amir, a shining light of hope, has been led astray." But he also added that Pakistan's socio-economic situation needed to be taken into account before rushing in to judge the alleged actions of its cricketers.
"We must remember that we are judging these guys by the standards of our own country, when their situations are vastly different," Lawson told The Age in Melbourne. "The first time I met Mohammad Amir was when he was 16, coming to an Under-19s camp. He comes from a small village near the Swat valley and was delayed by three hours because the Taliban had closed the highway. That doesn't happen in this country."
"One thing that struck me about Amir was his constant smile, his zest for the game," he said. "That has not changed. I will never condone any form of fixing, but we should consider that a cricketer might not be thinking of personal gain but of getting money to buy a generator for his village because they don't have electricity.
"I don't think Pakistan should be banished, we have seen it survive some incredible on and off-field turmoil," Lawson said. "But I will say that the present Pakistan administration cannot escape some of the blame for this. What they need right now is positive leadership and they don't have it.
"When I was there the board did not have people with vested interests, they were business people who treated people fairly, remunerated the players well. The first-class players were looked after and paid well and it made a difference.The [current] Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ijaz Butt is not a leader, he should not have the job, he is incapable."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.