Amir's career will complete a full circle if he does end up on UK shores. — AFP/File
Amir's career will complete a full circle if he does end up on UK shores. — AFP/File

It was the second day of the fourth and final Test of the series between England and Pakistan at Lord’s in 2010. England were 2-1 up, but Pakistan had played brilliantly in the third Test at The Oval and won by four wickets to set up an exciting final Test.

A majority of the first day’s play had been washed out, with only 12.3 overs being bowled and England on 39/1 after being put in to bat in overcast conditions.

It was still overcast when Alastair Cook took guard on the second morning, with Jonathan Trott at the other end.

Pakistan’s tall and skinny left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir, with his long slick hair, ran in to complete the 13th over. Three slips and a gully in place.

The first ball, full on off-stump, was hit by Cook to mid-on. The next delivery beat the Englishman fair and square, just missing his outside edge.

Amir then ran in for the final ball of the over, his hair flowing in the wind, and bowled a beauty, angling away from the left-hander again.

Cook got the edge this time, which safely carried into wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal’s gloves.

Amir, thoroughly delighted, broke into the airplane celebration, roaring loudly.

During his next seven deliveries, Amir went on to dismiss the dangerous Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Eoin Morgan with absolute peaches.

After a breather, he was back in the post-lunch session to snare two more wickets – Matt Prior and Graeme Swann – in an over to get his tally to six. England were 102/7, Amir 6/30.

Pakistan were on course for a famous series-levelling win.

Then, it all came crashing down for Pakistan. Over the next day and a half, a world record 322-run eighth-wicket stand between Trott and No. 9 Stuart Broad took England to 446.

In response, Pakistan collapsed spectacularly, being bowled out for 74 in their first innings.

Following on, the visitors were at 41/4 in the second innings at stumps on Day 3. As it turned out, it was only the start of the horror for Pakistani cricket.

The nightmare begins

At the end of the day’s play, the Pakistani players were whisked away from the ground barely 20 minutes after stumps, even before the mandatory press conference.

Why? British tabloid News of the World had published an exclusive story online that showed a man taking £150,000 from an undercover journalist in exchange for getting Amir and his compatriot Mohammad Asif to bowl no balls on particular deliveries of the match.

In the video, the man, identified as player agent Mazhar Majeed, is heard saying that Amir would bowl the first over of the England innings and deliver a no-ball on the first ball of the third over.

As the replays showed, Amir, who generally delivered the ball from well within the crease, had overstepped by what looked like at least a foot.

According to the report, Amir had bowled another no ball – an occurrence that was so shocking that Pakistani coach Waqar Younis asked the bowler if something was wrong during the lunch break – on demand in the match.

And thus the chapter of match-fixing in Pakistani cricket was reopened – one that everyone hoped had long been buried following the 2000 scandal.

Pakistan captain Salman Butt, who was accused of being the facilitator between the bookies and his teammates, Asif and Amir were banned by an International Cricket Council tribunal for ten, seven, and five years, respectively.

A UK criminal court later also sentenced the trio to two years and six months, one year, and six months in prison respectively.

Pleading guilty

Amir was the only one out of the three players who pleaded guilty to the charges in court.

He told Sky Sports in an interview that he was trapped and manipulated “because of my stupidity”.

He said that before the Lord’s Test, Majeed and Butt had tricked him into believing that his telephone conversations with an unidentified fixer called Ali had been recorded by the ICC.

He added that Majeed asked him to bowl two no balls in the match to get out of trouble.

“I was churning inside, thinking about it. I cursed myself. I knew I was cheating cricket.

Then I did it…I was worried that if I didn’t do it, then it might create a problem for me,” Amir said.

He also admitted that he had received texts from Ali, but he had told Butt about it and there had been no exchange of money.

However, this wasn't before Amir denied all the allegations in front of the ICC tribunal.

He also played the young, inexperienced player from a humble background card well.

He was only 18 years old when he went to England for that tour. Coming from a small village on the outskirts of Rawalpindi, he said he had given up his education to pursue cricket.

“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.”

Amir was released from prison on licence in February 2012 after serving just half of his six-month sentence, with the condition that he would be detained again if he repeated the crime.

However, his five-year ICC ban remained, which barred him from playing any professional cricket till 2015.

From being considered the next Wasim Akram and having at least 15 years of cricket ahead of him, there was now the possibility that his career had ended at just 18 years of age. Amir, however, did not give up.

“I will work doubly hard. There are lots of grounds in Pakistan and I won’t stop practising and keeping fit. I will work doubly hard and I will be back,” he said.

Road to redemption

In January 2015, with nine months still to go for his ban to end, the Pakistan Cricket Board allowed Amir, then 23, to return to domestic cricket, after he completed an ICC Anti-Corruption and Security Unit education programme.

The long slick hair was gone, replaced by a shorter crop. He was almost unrecognisable and, chances are, it was intentional. Forget the old guy, this is a new me.

He was soon picked by the Chittagong Vikings franchise of the Bangladesh Premier League, where he took 14 wickets in nine matches.

In December 2015, the PCB announced that Amir was now eligible for selection in the national team, having completed his rehabilitation programme.

Opinion was divided over the decision, with some current and former players being totally against it, while others believed he should be given a second chance.

Former Pakistan player Ramiz Raja was among the most vocal critics.

“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,” he wrote in a column.

Pakistan’s One-day International captain Azhar Ali and batsman Mohammad Hafeez refused to take part in the national team’s conditioning camp in Lahore after Amir was included in the list of probables for the tour of New Zealand in January 2016.

The two did show up eventually, but not before the board had to play mediator.

Amir was unfazed by the hostility, saying he had no hard feelings towards any of his critics and understood where they came from.

“I want [people] to trust me because they lost something because of me and I want to give back with my whole heart and soul (sic),” he said.

Amir was then picked in Pakistan’s ODI and T20 squads for the New Zealand tour and, later, for the Asia Cup and World Twenty20.

Even though Pakistan performed dismally in both tournaments, Amir’s spell of 3/18 in four overs against India in the Asia Cup was the talk of the game in spite of a heavy loss.

He had a ripping in-swinging yorker to the right-handed batsman, he could cut the ball off the pitch, and bowl deceiving slower deliveries.

Indian player-turned-commentator Sanjay Manjrekar said that he was bowling like a veteran of 75 Tests and 200 one-dayers.

Full circle

On Sunday, Amir was picked in Pakistan's Test squad for the tour of England in July.

His visa application has not yet been approved, meaning he could still miss the flight on June 18, but after receiving the backing of the England and Wales Cricket Board as well, he is likely to be on the plane with the rest of the squad.

Amir's career will complete a full circle if he does end up on UK shores.

Not only is it the first time he is returning there since the scandal, but even Pakistan have never toured the country in the last six years.

Amir is bound to become the pantomime villain during the tour if he plays, and England supporters are unlikely to spare him. It will be interesting to see how he reacts and whether he lets the abuse and banter affect him.

On his part, he has made all the right noises. In all the interviews he has given so far, Amir has tried his best for everyone associated with the sport to accept him back.

“I would love to bowl at Lord’s again. Fans – no matter where they are, in Pakistan or England or wherever – were hurt. I know that and the most important goal is to win them all,” he said.

Whether people should or should not accept him is entirely up to individual perspectives and there's little he can do to change the views of his critics.

The only thing he can do is focus on his game and get on with it. At 24, he still has at least 10 years of cricket if he can maintain his form and fitness.

He may not become the next Wasim Akram, but he has enough time to let his performances diminish, if not erase, the blot on his reputation.

This piece was originally published on Scroll.in

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