March 29, 2012

No sympathy for Amir

All the talk of his naivety doesn't wash: Mohammad Amir must pay for his crime, but he must also be given a shot at redemption

If the spot-fixing saga were ever made into a Bollywood film, you can be sure that the centrepiece will be a hushed scene in which Salman Butt coerces Mohammad Amir. In his interview to Michael Atherton, Amir spoke of being duped in a hotel parking lot, but for Bollywood a more appropriate setting would perhaps be a dark alley. There would have to be a build-up, with sinister camera angles and a creepy musical score, as Butt takes pains to get himself and Amir well away from earshot. Then a whispered conversation would ensue.

The scriptwriter would have to decide how much guilt to ascribe to Amir. In this he or she would hardly be alone, for it is something the entire cricket world has been struggling with. After his confession and conviction, there is no longer any doubt that Amir committed the act. But was he a reluctant and naïve pawn in Butt's manipulative hands or a willing participant eager to cash in?

Ambiguous characters often make for great cinema, so the scriptwriter might get away with infusing Amir's character with tantalising hints of both postures. Yet in real life this would be most unsatisfying. Where Butt carries a perpetual smirk on his face and Mohammad Asif comes across as a bit of a seasoned jailbird, Amir's youth, talent and innocent looks appeal to the nurturing streak within us. We want a precise assessment of his guilt and intentions. We want to read his mind. If he did indeed rush into the spot-fixing scam with excitement and glee and the smell of money overpowering his senses, then we'll spare him no mercy. But we want to be absolutely certain before we take that step.

People keep pointing to Amir's humble background as an explanation for why he might have succumbed to the temptation of quick riches. But corruption is hardly a monopoly of the poor; the wealthy fall prey to it just as much. There are also suggestions that Amir somehow did not appreciate the scale and significance of his act, that the bowling of two deliberate no-balls in exchange for money did not strike him as being particularly criminal. This is laughable, because by the time of the ill-fated Lord's Test, Amir had already been in the thick of international cricket for over a year, having played 13 Tests, 15 ODIs, and 18 T20 internationals.

In fact, like all international players, Amir had been explicitly communicated the ICC's code of conduct by the PCB, and been lectured on it at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore. He had played under the captaincy of Younis Khan, a scrupulously honest role model. If he still did not realise that deliberate underperformance was horribly wrong, it shows callous arrogance, insensitivity and cold-heartedness, not naivety or innocence.

There is no question that Butt was the mastermind. He could have picked others for accomplices - and may well have tried - but in all likelihood he solicited Amir because he sensed the right of kind of permissive ingredients in Amir's character. To understand the psyche of these spot-fixers, it helps to refer to the context of Pakistani society, which is deeply permeated with a culture of corruption. "Innocent is he who does not get caught," go the lyrics of a socially conscious song that is a favourite of local FM stations. The subtext is that there are many visible examples of people who bend the rules, get rewarded, and get away with it. This is probably why Butt's approach appeared attractive and Amir did not rebuff him.

To understand the psyche of the spot-fixers, it helps to refer to the context of Pakistani society, which is deeply permeated with a culture of corruption. "Innocent is he who does not get caught," go the lyrics of a popular song

Amir's mindset is also betrayed by the fact that he passed up opportunities to come clean. He could have confessed right away, called a friend in the media, spoken to someone in the family, opened up to his boyhood coach and mentor. He did none of that. Even during the ICC hearings held in Doha early last year, he chose to plead innocent. He lied well and with conviction.

If we are fair and do not allow ourselves to be charmed by youthful looks and boyish manners, we will not shed any tears for Amir. We should appreciate that he does not deserve sympathy and concessions any more than do Butt or Asif. There should be no lessening of his sentence, no shortcut for his return to international cricket. The value of deterrence in this scenario cannot be underestimated. No stone should be left unturned to ensure that would-be spot-fixers are not seduced by the possibility that they might get away with it.

At the same time, cricket as a sport owes it to Amir to keep the door open for his rehabilitation. In psychiatric medicine there is a fine tradition of drug addicts becoming addiction counsellors after getting treatment. This is an ideal parallel for Amir, in that he could become a crusading champion in the fight against cricket corruption. The ICC, the PCB, and the cricket establishment generally would do well to embrace him as such. Mohammad Amir the confessed spot-fixer, who was once a celebrated heir to Pakistan's fast-bowling dynasty, now going around warning young talent to stay clean: his credibility will be unmatched.

Let us therefore forget about hastening Amir's return to the bowling crease, for he must be fully punished if the gains from the spot-fixing convictions are to have a lasting impact. But we must give him this reforming opportunity to contribute to the health, welfare and future of the game. Amir had ambitions of joining the ranks of Pakistan's grand masters, but this alternative legacy will be no less important.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2012, 20:39 GMT

    he must be forgiven as he is needed by our team and cricket

  • Robin on March 29, 2012, 19:38 GMT

    This is the best and most balanced article 've seen on this subject. I love watching the guy bowl but he must be made to serve his whole sentence and then be welcomed back into the fold. One would hope that he will be watched very carefully on his return.

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2012, 19:27 GMT

    Amir must be given a chance, I have a young brother couple of years older than Amir and I fully understand how youth of Pakistan behave, how they see thing and how lightly they sometimes take serious things. For sure Amir committed a crime, for sure he got punished, he should stay away for cricket till full realisation but this period should not be full five years, but may be at least one year max two, but after that he should be allowed to come back and play his part in this beautiful game of cricket.

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2012, 19:14 GMT


  • Saeed on March 29, 2012, 19:11 GMT

    AGREED ! Amir is guilty cause he confessed ... it takes lots of guts to do so, to admit one's mistake ... I bet none of you have ever done so cause none of you are no angels ... everyone makes mistake

    Have some Epathy ....

    I am strong believer that everyone deserves a SECOND CHANCE .....

    The point is if one makes a mistake, and he is punished for it, thats it, end of story, get a life you all rather then Scathing away at Amir ...

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2012, 18:44 GMT

    A talented young cricketer but He was involved in big controversy. Sympathies of many people are with him but this is a sore fact that He was involved in Spot fixing which ruined his name as well as Pakistan reputation. When u r representing ur country then u becomes an asset and u r not bigger than ur country's reputation. V need him back but I think it shouldn't happen for the sake of game.

  • Salman on March 29, 2012, 17:36 GMT

    Tell me honestly how many of us are not susceptible to temptation? Amir was a young kid who was new to the big stage. As for Salman Butt, is he Professor Moriarty who immediately perceives who can be his partner in crime? He just saw a young kid and 80% of the people belonging to Amir's then age group would have fallen. We are talking about "no mercy" and "country's integrity" but how many are talking about "repentance" and "forgiveness"? He is already being penalized and he acknowledged it himself that he should be. How much extra punishment do we have to lash at him by berating him in public forums?

  • Hammad on March 29, 2012, 17:29 GMT

    Saad, though I agree with a lot of things you've said here, I have issues with the convenient 'logical' conclusion you have reached from scratching the surface alone, and not trying to go beyond what is visible. For instance, you say "If he still did not realise that deliberate underperformance".. i do not remember him deliberately under-performing; the two no-balls came in the midst of his best bowling efforts (perhaps a spell that even Wasim would be proud of).

    The point here is, teenagers at his age are vulnerable; especially given the society they grow up in. You painted the perfect picture of that society, though you came out with a different conclusion. Butt needed two bowlers to ball no-balls. He picked two: Asif, a seasoned crook.. and Amir, the most vulnerable and naive. Go back to when you were 18 and how border line misdemeanors were perceived by the youth. The episode highlights the frailties of our larger society; yet the blame is firmly being placed on Amir alone.

  • Jawwad on March 29, 2012, 15:56 GMT

    Shafqat - I generally agree with the theme of your article but please note that sportsmen around the world are ordinary people like us and many like us do not necessarily possess great moral characters, though we love them for what they do on the field. Cricket, a multi dimensional game, the game itself will always be threatened with one kind of menace or other. As a cricket fan, let us love Amir for what he has done on the field so far.

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2012, 14:29 GMT

    There is no black and white as you have pointed out. It's nice to see some level headed commentary on the issue. He did what he did, he paid for it, can he learn from his mistakes and make a comeback? That's one prediction most palm readers wouldn't want to make.

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