David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo
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Mohammad Amir, in his first comments on the spot-fixing affair that disgraced Pakistan cricket, has presented himself as a victim of a plot organised by his captain at the time, Salman Butt, and the agent, Mazhar Majeed, and pleaded for forgiveness.
Amir was jailed for six months after pleading guilty at Southwark Crown Court last year to conspiracy to accept corrupt payments and conspiracy to cheat at gambling after a plot was uncovered in a sting operation arranged by the now defunct UK Sunday tabloid, the News Of the World, involving the bowling of deliberate no-balls in a Test against England in 2010.
His guilty plea meant that unlike his co-conspirators, Butt and Mohammad Asif, his fellow fast bowler, he had no chance to tell his story, and indeed did not face the challenge of cross-examination. In a statement through his lawyer, he had ventured at Southwark Crown Court: "I want to apologise to all in Pakistan and all others to whom cricket is important. I did the wrong thing. I was trapped, because of my stupidity. I panicked."
Now he has expanded on that defence to the former England captain, Michael Atherton, on Sky Sports.
"I ask everyone to forgive me," he said. "I messed up… Thanks to Allah I have taught myself to distinguish between right and wrong. I have never done anything wrong. I was manipulated."
Butt was sentenced to two-and-a-half years, Asif was jailed for one year, and Majeed received a sentence of two years eight months. Butt and Amir subsequently lost appeals against the sentence.
Amir told Sky that he did not admit guilt during an investigation by the ICC because "I could not find the courage." Instead, he placed the blame firmly upon Butt, a man who he learned to view in the Pakistan Academy, before his international debut, as a rare example of a friendly senior player eager to encourage him. "I was so angry with Salman," Amir said. "He took advantage of my friendship. And I used to respect him like an elder brother."
Amir was full of remorse during an hour-long interview that will bring the subject of his potential rehabilitation to the fore. He claimed that he bowled two deliberate no-balls in the Lord's Test because Majeed and Butt called him to a car park at the Pakistan team hotel in London and duped him into believing that his phone conversations with an unidentified fixer called Ali, whose name had not been revealed in court, had been recorded by the ICC.
After the calls from Ali, he said that the day before the Lord's Test came the meeting with Butt and Majeed. "I received a call from Mazhar that I should go to the car park…when I got into the lift I bumped into Salman… All of a sudden it was as if someone had launched an attack. He told me that my calls with Ali had been recorded by the ICC. He told me I was trapped… I panicked so much it did not even occur to me how ridiculous it was."
He said he was taken to a car in the car park and that Majeed said, with Butt sitting silently in the back seat, "Do me a favour. Bowl two no-balls for me."
Amir recalled: "I said Bro I'm scared I can't do it. I was churning inside, thinking about it. I cursed myself. I knew I was cheating cricket...Then I did it."
Phone records show that Ali tried to call Amir 40 times during the build-up to the Oval Test as the spot-fixing plot was being hatched: Amir returned the calls twice. However, he did give him his bank details. "I gave him my contact details because he was Salman's friend," he said. "…Twice he asked me if Salman had had a word with me. I was thinking what does he want from me? Let's try to figure it out."
Amir's rendition suggests that the spot-fixing plot was more sophisticated than previosuly thought. He claimed that Butt, who he knew as an "elder brother," had first brought up the subject of rigging matches for financial gain during the early stages of the tour. "He was smiling and laughing," Amir said. "I didn't take it seriously. I said no bro. I said to him this is forbidden, leave it."
Amir's formative years were spent in Changa Bangyaal near Rawalpindi. He was born into what is widely regarded as a poor family near Rawalpindi. In the interview, he displayed himself as more intelligent and quick-witted than many have presupposed.
"I have support," he said. "Good people are boosting my morals and giving me courage… is not a good place for anyone and nobody would be proud to be there."
He was 18, the forerunner in an exciting new crop of fast bowlers, as he displayed the form that made him Man of the Series in the England-Pakistan Tests.
"One day I was on top of the world and the next it came crashing down," he said. "… I was stupid. I should have told someone. But I didn't know what was happening to me...I had never thought about this sort of thing. I thought it was a load of nonsense. This led to my downfall."
Amir told how after the sting he was visited by Majeed and given £1500* (approximately $2380). "He told me I was his little brother. He was buzzing with excitement like he had hit the jackpot... I did not even touch the money. I knew that he had made me do something wrong."
Amir was released from Portland Young Offenders Institution in Dorset on February 1 after serving half of a six-month sentence for his part in a spot-fixing scam.
He returned to Pakistan more than three weeks later, arriving at the international airport in Lahore at dawn alongside his solicitor, Sajida Malik, and leaving through a side exit to evade the media.
Amir's mentor, Asif Bajwa, told ESPNcricinfo at the time. "He made a mistake and he admits it. He is a strong young boy and knows how to withstand pressure both in cricket and in life, so I believe he definitely will return. Now what required is his image building."
That process has begun, led not by the ICC, nor any other professional body but by a former England captain.
*03.45 GMT, March 20: The article had stated £15,500. This has been corrected.