January 5, 2016

'My most important goal is to win the fans back'

Mohammad Amir opens up about his impending return to the highest level of the game, and what his exile taught him

"The feeling inside me can't be explained" © Associated Press

How do you feel after being selected for the national side again?
Getting a second chance is unbelievable, and as a Muslim I thank Allah for creating another opportunity for me. I do believe in second chances.

The feeling inside me can't be explained. I know what I have gone through, and it isn't easy for me ahead. It's a tough task and I am obviously a different Amir this time since my previous stint. My previous span of cricket is all over. It's a new start for me. I have to achieve more as a person, let alone the cricketing goals.

Did you believe you could return?
To be honest, I almost quit, as there were moments that discouraged me from playing cricket again. I had serious thoughts that I shouldn't be playing cricket and that I should just part myself from it, but my family and some close friends kept me awake and motivated me. My family never let me down, otherwise I thought that five years being away from cricket are a lot and I wouldn't be the same as before.

What made you believe?
I started to feel rusty and thought my skills as a bowler had faded away after five years. I didn't know if I would be accepted back or not, and I didn't want to wait that long. I even considered resuming my studies. For a while I was distracted because I wasn't playing cricket, so nothing was making sense and I could have lost faith easily, but like I said, my family and my legal team kept me alive and motivated and made me believe in my return.

The way I was backed by ICC and PCB - the support was amazing, otherwise I couldn't have made it. The road map they made for me to become a better person left all negative thoughts behind. Through the rehabilitation programme I managed to reach out to youngsters and share my experiences. That gave me a reason to stay on course.

"Money is important but it is not everything. After all, in the last five years I didn't die starving"

Do you get the feeling you are being pushed back into cricket hastily and you need more time?
No, I don't think that. This might be the case if wasn't playing cricket at all but I have been back in the system for almost a year now. Played club cricket, selected for Grade 2 cricket, played domestic cricket from scratch, played first-class cricket, and then went to the BPL, so I am comfortable with all this. There is plenty of cricket under my belt and I feel ready for international cricket.

Do you think you can win back the trust you lost?
I don't know about the future and nobody knows what will happen next. As a professional sportsman I can only give my best shot to win it back. I know it is a slow process and I will definitely win it back with my performance. I am not saying or even thinking that I will come and just prevail at once within one or two matches, but I surely have to be on top of my game to win everything. I am determined to do this for the fans who stood by me, and I have to do it for them because now it's all about their pride and I will be the guardian of their trust.

Why should people trust you again?
This is tricky. If anyone says you are bad, this means he wants you to be good. I am here to be good and I want to be good. If they say I have done bad then they should also give me a chance to change myself. I need their support and I will prove to them that I am a changed person.

I chose cricket and I know people madly in love with cricket got hurt and they now should trust me only because I want to repay them by watching me performing. I want them to trust me because they had something because of me, and I want to give them back with my whole heart and soul.

How have you changed?
My vision of life has changed and now I am more positive. Obviously I am five years older, but I am still in my early 20s and I have experienced a lot at such an age. It was a tough time and during this ban I really learned about life in bad times. At times when everything is good, you enjoy your peak, but you are sometimes not able to differentiate between right and wrong - everything seems to be good even if you know it's bad. So this is what I have learnt. I am more focused now towards my goals.

"If I don't have the courage to face the crowd, then I shouldn't be coming back. I have to handle the pressure" © AFP

What thoughts went through your mind while serving your punishment?
Anger, of course. It's natural, and as a fast bowler it's in the blood. But yes, they were very frustrating years, though with time I became more positive, and at the end of the day the support from everyone around me kept me focused and never let me be carried away by negative thoughts.

How did it feel when Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali stood against your reintegration?
Everyone has their opinion and I respect that. It's their right to express whatever they felt and I am not hurt at all. You can't push and force people to do what they don't want to do. If things need to change it has to be gradual. Whatever they said, it was their opinion and I believe if there are issues, it should be addressed, discussed. But credit should be given to the board as they intervened to unite us all together.

In the camp I met everyone and I am happy they all heard me, and I am lucky they understood me, and now the atmosphere is good around me. I think it's more of a communication gap. Five years are a lot. I think when you mix with them and talk to them, they automatically see that you are a changed person, so I think with time, things will be good to great.

How do you feel about being in a team or playing environment where some of your team-mates are against you?
They are not against me and I'd like to believe that. It's their opinion and what I can say about it is, it's their right to accept me or not. You might understand that sometimes even in a home, a mother or father might tend to favour one child or the other in the family, so I am not worried about it. With time it will be covered.

"I almost quit, as there were moments that discouraged me from playing cricket again"

Do you think the punishment you went through was fair for what you did?
I never challenged the ICC verdict. This means I accepted my punishment. It is mentioned in Islamic law that you have got to be punished if you commit a mistake. What is important is that I have learnt my lesson. Now I wish no one gets into the sort of trouble that I was in.

What is your philosophy about money now?
Money is important but it is not everything. After all, in the last five years I didn't die starving. We as professionals earn money and obviously I will play cricket for Pakistan and I will earn money because nobody is working for free, but what is more important is the trust of people. Money will come but it's the lost time that will not come back, and it's not money that wins you trust.

Do you think you are ready for your second chance?
As a professional, you have to adjust in every situation. You become a legend only when you know your goal, role and situations. It will be tough and definitely there will be immense pressure on me when I come out onto the ground again. But I know what the requirements are and I have made up my mind. If I don't have the courage to face the crowd, then I shouldn't be coming back. I have to handle the pressure and I know I can do it.

So you want to be a legend in cricket?
I don't set big goals. I believe in setting small goals and achieving them, and then at the end of the day when you collect them, it becomes big. If I manage to play another eight to 10 years of cricket then I might end up in the category.

On Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali: "It's their right to express whatever they felt and I am not hurt at all" © AFP

Do you think you were a little arrogant on the field when you dismissed Mohammad Hafeez in the BPL?
My attitude is restricted to the ground. As a fast bowler you've got to have aggression, otherwise you don't deserve to be a fast bowler. In the field you don't have friends and buddies because you have to give 100% effort.

You are being purchased in the leagues, they are giving you respect, and this is all for what? This is for performance. They want your skills and your wholehearted efforts in the field, and regardless of whether you are playing against your own countryman, you've got to be serious and keep yourself up in the field. A fast bowler should be like this.

Tell us a little about your ongoing development as a fast bowler.
I think I clocked 145kph in the BPL and my average speed was about 142kph. For a fast bowler, rhythm is important, and the more I bowl, the more I will open myself. After five years I have come with a fresh body, and I have played ample cricket to get into tempo before being selected for the New Zealand series. And if I bowled at 144-145kph in Bangladesh this means that will go up in conditions like New Zealand, where pitches are helpful for bowlers. So I am satisfied with my bowling.

Did you follow cricket throughout the five years?
I followed cricket throughout. Learnt a lot watching it. In fact, you learn a lot by watching it on TV because you observe it very closely. Cricket obviously has changed in the last five years, become faster in every format. Teams are scoring 350-plus runs in Tests in a day. In ODI cricket, two new balls from both ends is another change fast bowlers have to adjust and adapt to, but to me the basics haven't changed, they never will, so I have covered my basics and the rest I have to just handle the situation according to the format.

Would you understand if some around England cricket do not forgive you?
I think time will tell. But I know when they see me playing they will see good things, and I hope they will accept me. Playing cricket in England is what I am looking forward to in my career ahead, and I would love to bowl at Lord's again. Fans, no matter where they are, in Pakistan or England or wherever, they were hurt, I know that, and the most important goal is to win them all.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson

Comments