GUJAR KHAN: The lush green wheat crop is still in the process of sprouting out from the rich reddish soil in the rain-fed Potohar plateau. The crop sown on arid land awaits the blessing of rain to grow, attain height, thickness of stem and spikes to be filled with kernels.
Amid the luxuriant vegetation is a small hamlet and at the far end of around 30 houses, perhaps the smallest among the small is a dwelling crafted just over the brink of a canyon. The yellowish, off-white painted house has a sunny courtyard.
This hamlet is Jandharan in Changa Bangial union council in Gujar Khan tehsil. The house is that of Mohammad Amir, the left-arm fast bowler who took the world by storm on his debut in 2009 and then was caught in a blizzard at the centre of a spot-fixing scandal in 2010.
The young pacer, at the age of 18 in 2010, got 99 wickets in 14 Test, 15 one-day, and 18 T20 international matches in just one year of his career before he was banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) after his name appeared in the spot-fixing saga.
None of Amir’s immediate family lives here now. They had shifted to Lahore’s affluent Defence Housing Authority soon after he earned accolades in international cricket and riches too.
His brother-in-law Muhammad Ashraf and sister now look after their ancestral house and adjacent agriculture land which was a source of bread and butter for the family before Amir became a cricket star.
“These last five years have been very tough on our family. At times it seemed as if his career was over and we were ruined,” Ashraf recalls the early days when Amir was banned by the ICC after deliberately delivering no-balls during the Lord’s test against England in 2010.
Sitting in the drawing room of the four-room family house against a backdrop of trophies, shields and a picture of the pacer in a white cricket kit, Ashraf seemed quite pleased at Amir’s comeback and his inclusion in Pakistan XI. After serving a five-year ban, and spending three months in a British prison, Amir is expected to return to the pitch on Friday, for a series of T20 and one-day matches against New Zealand.
“I would give credit of the return to Amir’s courage. He is such a brave boy and was never frightened in those difficult times. I haven’t seen such a strong person in my life,” says Ashraf.
“But it would not have been possible without the support and kindness of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the ICC, the whole Pakistani nation and the media,” he quickly adds, and then mentions the harsh memories of the bitter criticism Amir faced.
“There were some people who spread baseless propaganda and criticised him unduly. Thank God, we have come out of it. No doubt it is God who bestows upon you respect and fame, takes you to great heights and knocks you down,” he says.
Outside the drawing room full of Amir’s trophies and pictures, his eight-year-old nephew Muhammad Kaif plays marbles with his friend.
Their dog barks in the courtyard and Kaif’s pink cheeks further shine in the sunshine.
“Amir is a brilliant boy. He is very humble and gives respect to everybody. We all in this village are happy that he is returning to international cricket,” says Ghulam Mustafa, a retired military soldier in the village, passing by the street.
Tahir Mehmood, a young man of 31, says the best time in the village is when Amir returns home after every two months.
“A crowd gathers at his home. Everybody — young and old, men and women — wants to greet him.”
Others, however, are still sceptical and question how Amir was trapped in the match-fixing controversy.
“We are unsure of whether he committed this mistake. But what we are sure of is that he belongs to a very gentle family. His mother worked hard to feed her seven children. They were poor but not cheaters,” says Wajid Hussain, a labourer who lives on the edge of Changa Bangial village.
Senior cricket journalist Abdul Mohi Shah exonerates Amir from being part of spot-fixing due to greed but blames the PCB for allowing his premature return to national colours after admitting to being corrupt.
“I don’t think he became part of spot-fixing due to his own personal greed; actually his seniors pressurised him to do so. In any case, the PCB should have taken more time to include him in the national team after his ban was lifted. If he repeats any mistake in the future, the onus will be on the board now,” he said.
But Ashraf requests sympathy and promises a brand new Amir.
“I would request former cricketers and the media to give him a chance and ignore his mistake as a child. He will surely transform the whole Pakistan team, because he knows the swing,” he says.
Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2016