November 19, 2014

Pakistan should not welcome Amir back

The serene team culture cultivated by Misbah and his men shouldn't be allowed to be disrupted by a player with a tainted past

Has anyone asked the team what they think of the plan to fast-track Amir's return? © PA Photos

Why is the world so keen to see Mohammad Amir back? The managers of the game, who for whatever reason are trying to fast-track him into the very system that he had wronged, have obviously not experienced the pangs of betrayal and cheating that fixing causes. I have.

It is the most awful and sickening feeling. When a bunch of rogues you share the dressing room with are fighting tooth and nail to lose a match, it kills your desire to play the game, and whips up a desire to kill them.

I got a crash course on fixing on a tour in the mid-1990s and it was an eye-opener for me. There were two groups within the team trying to alter results. One pack wouldn't let the other know about its potential kill - they would pick a game without letting the other know. The ODI series that followed the Tests was the nadir. It was either the fear of being found out or of an infiltrator breaching the band of brothers that I was not picked to play a single match - not even a practice match.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me. I remember the manager on the tour telling me privately that it was a royal mess and that he intended to report the rogues. But nothing came of it. This weak management set the precedent for the rise of player power, and a blind eye was turned towards blatant cheating and poor governance. The decay was allowed to penetrate deeper, eating away at the very ethos of the game in the country. It eventually culminated in the Qayyum report in 2000 exposing the extent of the rot.

Sport is black and white in judging a performer. You err, you are binned. The international cricket fraternity is a small, tightly knit unit, and not a community where serious offenders are accepted and absorbed. But Pakistan cricket is different. It has its own shades of grey and operates under the assumption that everything is a conspiracy. Instead of taking the bull by its horns it has always refused to acknowledge, act upon or learn from shameful incidents. Smoking pot, fixing matches, using banned substances, forfeiting a Test match, biting a cricket ball, scuffing up the pitch on purpose, hitting a team-mate with a bat, and spot-fixing are some transgressions that elite Pakistan players have been guilty of in recent years.

Now the Pakistan cricket establishment has decided to reintegrate an individual who was caught cheating, found guilty and sentenced for it. Pakistan has repeatedly shot itself in the foot and chances are it will struggle with this latest trial-and-error method too.

I am all for rehabilitation and for finding ways to set a young man back on course in his life. But it just can't be in the game that he sullied and brought disrepute to.

It's quite ironic that while emphasis is being laid on cleansing the game of chuckers, the most serious of all cricket's bugbears, cheating, is being given official sanction almost. The argument put across in Amir's favour is that his talent was compromised at a young age due to poor judgement and his naivete, and because he comes from a poor family. If that is the case, there are millions of other Pakistani youth who have had a tough start in life, and less than ideal upbringings. Does that give them a licence to use underhanded means and cheat to make a living?

In fact, to quote an incident, I was approached to find out why Amir had turned down a more-than-decent offer made to him by an English county just a day before he was caught. During my conversation with him regarding the offer, I realised that because the offer was a few thousand pounds short of what he expected, he was willing to let go of an opportunity to play and establish himself at a renowned and historic county. I came to the conclusion that he was not, after all, so gullible and naive about money matters.

In the meantime, someone needs to ask the Pakistan players if they at all want Amir back. After years of perseverance, Misbah-ul-Haq and his men have been able to salvage Pakistan cricket and its image. Should they be exposed to a virus now? How unjust would it be to the performers who have toiled long and hard to make way for a man whose integrity is still suspect.

Don't get me wrong - I am all for rehabilitation and for finding ways to set a young man back on course in his life. But it just can't be in the very game that he sullied and brought disrepute to.

Ramiz Raja is a former Pakistan batsman, former CEO of the Pakistan board, and currently a commentator and presenter

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