HE was a meteor, a sensation, who made cricket pundits sit up and enthusiasts punch the air with glee, such was his mastery with the ball. But then Icarus flew too close to the sun.

Perhaps fame came too early to the 17-year-old from Gujjar Khan who threw caution to the wind when he bowled that infamous no-ball at Lord’s seven years ago. Maybe he should have schooled himself at the altar of other cricketing greats who threw matches without a glimmer of doubt crossing their visage. His no ball was so wide that it made eyebrows raised.

His suave captain Salman Butt went up to the lad and counselled him. Except that he was the one who had led him astray. The ensuing expose and ban led former West Indian bowling great Michael Holding to be in tears over Amir’s career being over.

For the last seven years, Amir was peppered with barbs and open hostility. The unrelenting pressure would have broken the most courageous of men. Analysts felt his ban should not be lifted and he should be left outside the noble realm of cricket which he had disgraced. On the other hand, there were players like former England captain Michael Atherton who stood by Amir.

Former cricketer Inzamam-ul-Haq thought the induction of Amir would lead to distraction from the actual cricket. The thought which plagued Inzy, who himself had played with many tainted players in the past, was: what if Amir bowled a no-ball at a vital juncture of the game?

But Amir was having none of it. He kept his head down and trained like a man possessed. Instead of replying to doubting Thomases, he let his talent speak for itself. As Churchill said: “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

When he made his comeback to international cricket in 2016, there were team-mates who outright refused to even train with him, much less play matches with him. There were whispers of his form declining when he was in the wilderness.

But Amir refused to be negative: “Sometimes in life you don’t get a second chance, but I want to make the most of this second life I have been given.”

When Amir was banned, he was a lanky floppy haired kid much like the ones you see playing cricket in the lanes of Pakistan. He returned taller, leaner, with a grown-up haircut. Had he learnt from his mistakes? Was the fire in his belly back? Be that as it may, his uncanny ability to block out the vitriol and concentrate on the job at hand is remarkable in one so young from the backwaters of Pakistan

On his return to cricket at Lord’s in July 2016, Amir was so nervous that he could not grip the ball properly, but by the end of the match he had redeemed himself and won his place back in the team.

Players like Rohit Sharma of India openly said what many were muttering: “I don’t think we should go gaga about him…He’s just a normal bowler. It’s not as if he turns up and blows everyone away.”

Sharma scoffed at comparisons of Amir with Wasim Akam ludicrous. “People are comparing him to Wasim Akram.. It’s wrong.”

In 2016, cricket analyst Dennis Friedman announced: “Amir took a proverbial dump on cricket’s teat from which we all suckle. We welcome him back into society, but let him find some other profession in which to restart his life. To allow him back into the fold is a mistake. Cricket owes him nothing.”

What a difference a year makes.

At The Oval at the Champions Trophy final against India with the eyes of the world on him, Amir was on fire. He glided like a plane every time he took a wicket and what a beautiful sight it was to behold.

If Amir brought shame to Pakistan at Lord’s, he bought honour and glory to his battle scarred country at The Oval. And with such style. He broke the back of Indian batting, no mean feat to achieve, and it was like staccato gunfire with no respite. The Phoenix had risen from the ashes. Fittingly, the first batsman to go was Rohit Sharma who had dismissed Amir last year as a flash in the pan. The icing on the cake for Amir was the great Wasim Akram tweeting in support of Amir, saying his performance reminded him of his younger days.

You were saying, Rohit Sharma..?

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. All hail Amir, the man of such supreme talent and steely determination.

There is a lesson in his story for all of us. Success is the best revenge.

Maheen Usmani
@MaheenUsmani

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2017

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