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Just how innocent is Mohammad Amir?

March 27, 2012

-Photo by AFP

Ever since the spot-fixing controversy broke out in August 2010, statements and analysis of various shades have been in the air. The tainted trio — Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir — have had their share of criticism. However, Amir being the youngest and possibly the most talented have been enjoying a fair bit of sympathy from all quarters.

And that is why, I feel, Amir got a bit carried away and has since been committing one mistake after another. Throughout the criminal trial in England, Amir was the silent victim. Even after the final hearing in Doha, where he was handed down a 5-year ban by the ICC tribunal, he chose to stand by his version of the story that he was completely innocent and had not indulged in anything immoral.

Until then, all seemed normal. But as soon as Amir pleaded guilty before the court in London, a sense of a possible patch-up prevailed and the events that followed only cemented my views on the matter.

Since Amir’s return from a prison in the UK, where he served his sentence, he has found staunch support from none other than the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Zaka Ashraf, who recently expressed his keenness to have Amir back on national duty. Besides, the young pacer’s own decision to not challenge the five-year ban in the Court of Arbitration is no less puzzling for his fans.

Then just out of the blue, an interview of the banned fast bowler was aired recently by a leading British TV channel, the Sky Sports, in which the left-armer claimed that he was ‘blackmailed’ into performing the spot-fixing act during the infamous Lord’s Test.

Following the lengthy interview, conducted by former England skipper Mike Atherton, the sympathy wave has further caught on in Amir’s favour.

However, a few questions continue to puzzle my mind. Firstly, why did the Sky Sports wait for a month to telecast the interview since it had been originally recorded on Feb 20th in the UK?

Moreover, the manner in which the Sky Sports reached out to the Pakistani media through the PCB said it all and pretty much exposed the desperation behind the effort.

The UK channel not only mentioned the exact satellite frequency so that the Pakistani broadcasters could easily download the whole interview before putting it on air, they also dubbed the questions from Atherton in Urdu to make it more emotionally appealing for our viewers.

During the course of the day, the animated efforts of the PCB officials ensured all leading local journalists remained on board and duly informed about the interview.

Now why should the PCB, which until recently was so vocal about its zero-tolerance approach towards any corruption in the game, so keen to ensure the smooth telecast of Amir’s interview on the local news channels?

I said to myself if this was ground being prepared to gather more sympathy for Amir and to garner more support for the suspended pacer’s early return to international cricket? The statement from the board chairman Zaka Ashraf the very next day vindicated my views to a large extent.

But that is not all. The interview, in fact, had another important aspect to it which possibly went unnoticed by many. Amir, at one point, revealed the involvement of a chap named ‘Ali’ who blackmailed him into bowling the no-balls in the Lord’s Test. The interviewer, quite astonishingly, did not probe about ‘Ali’ any further.

The way I read the situation, this guy ‘Ali’ had contacts with Amir and gave him the necessary instructions prior to the England trip and I can deduce this on the following counts: In his first five Test matches, Amir did not bowl a single no-ball. Then all of a sudden, in his seventh outing — in Australia — he over-stepped for a staggering 13 times.

Amir claimed in the interview with Sky Sports that since he hardly ever over-stepped in his career, therefore, he had to practise it hard before doing it in the Lord’s Test. He was right, because in his first six Test matches he bowled only two no-balls collectively. Later, between the above mentioned Australia Test and the Lord’s outing, he again remained steady and went over the popping crease only five times in six Test matches.

Only twice in his 14-Test career, Amir’s over-stepping was glaring —against Australia in 2009 and against England in 2010. So no points for guessing why ‘Ali’ and Mazhar Majeed could blackmail Amir on something which had previously happened between them on the Australian trip.

I can even say this much that all three were aware of the truth and there was evidence in the form of text messages between them too, so Amir got frazzled and delivered the no-balls on their instructions.

Amir also claimed in the interview that he met ‘Ali’ just once in Dubai and spoke over the phone a few times, and on that basis gave him his bank account details.

Now, does Amir really want us to fall for this lame excuse? I was amongst Amir’s biggest supporters until the latest interview was televised. I have no hesitation in admitting that now my viewpoint has changed drastically. Sorry, but he is just trying to prove his innocence by distorting the facts.

Every now and then the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the PCB reiterate their resolve to curb corruption in cricket and, therefore, they should come out clear on this issue which is, indeed, a test case for them. Otherwise, there will be more cynics like me waiting to desert this game we so passionately love.

The writer is a former Pakistan captain.