Amir’s Test return
The redemption of a former spot-fixer
Pakistan’s players are ready to close ranks around Mohammad Amir when he makes his long-awaited Test comeback at Lord’s on Thursday – but they are also focused on shutting out the noise surrounding Amir’s return to the scene of his spot-fixing involvement six years ago and intend to let their efforts on the pitch do most of the talking.
Wahab Riaz has already described Amir as the team’s “little brother” and he reiterated their support for the 24-year-old, who is likely to be under intense scrutiny in his first Test since 2010, after which he served time in a young offenders’ institute as well as a five-year ICC ban from all cricket for agreeing to bowl deliberate no-balls.
Despite the shadow cast over Pakistan’s last visit to Lord’s, Amir’s name remains on the honours board for his first-innings 6 for 84. Wahab said he hoped Amir would be able to repeat the feat this time around and that another five-wicket haul in sunnier circumstances would help to rehabilitate his reputation, as well as put Pakistan on their way to upsetting England in the first Test.
“What has happened has gone now, it has gone a long way now so I think the best thing is that he can perform well,” Wahab said. “I want him to take five wickets in this Test match to get his name back and to get his image back, which has been spoiled, and I wish him all the best to win this Test for Pakistan.”
While the current England team – a handful of whom played in the 2010 Test – have largely expressed a willingness to face Amir, some former players, notably Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen, have suggested that match-fixers should automatically be banned for life. Speaking last month, Alastair Cook put forward a similar view, although he was satisfied that, in Amir’s case, he had served than ban that he was given at the time.
The question of how the Lord’s crowd will react when Amir readies himself to bowl at the ground once again also looms over the Test, but Wahab said his team-mate was mentally strong enough to handle the pressure.
“I think he will deal with all those things and he is ready to answer with his performance and that is what counts,” Wahab said. “He is ready for everything. If you make a mistake it doesn’t mean that you are out of this world and people will keep blaming you for that. Once he has done his punishment then it is a new life for him and he is ready to have a go again.”
Responding to several questions about the significance of the occasion, Wahab said the Pakistan players were getting used to letting it go “in one ear and out the other”.
“You cannot stop what people say and what people think,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what people think and we are not here to answer what people think. The only thing is we are here to play good cricket and here to play competitive cricket against an England team who are very good in their home conditions.
“Our focus and concentration is to win this Test match and play as good as we can for our country and win this game. That is all we are thinking. We know things will come and go but you hear it in one ear and you leave it with the other and you just concentrate on your cricket.”
Pakistan’s last two tours of England have ended in controversial – not to mention heavy – defeats: the forfeiture at The Oval in 2006 led to a 3-0 scoreline, while England wrapped up the series 3-1 four years later. Their last Test series win in this country came 20 years ago, in 1996, but they arrive this time as the higher ranked side, on the back of a thorough programme of preparation and acclimatisation, and having won their five of their last six Test matches against England.
Pakistan briefly rose to No. 2 in the ICC Test rankings – they are currently third, a place above England – after beating England 2-0 in the UAE last year and Wahab pointed to Misbah-ul-Haq, who stepped up to replace Salman Butt as captain after the 2010 spot-fixing crisis and oversee the rebuilding of the team, as the main reason for their recent success.
“What has happened before has gone,” he said. “It was six years ago and Pakistan have made their name in Test cricket. From the last four years we have had a Test ranking of two, three, four. Under the captaincy of Misbah this team is much more united.
“We have seen the hard time of Pakistan cricket. It’s easy to see and easy to talk about but we have worked hard after what happened. We have managed to make people all over the world believe that Pakistan is a good Test team. The belief will come – it depends how much crowd will come and want to see the Test matches. If it is a full house that means they do believe in the Pakistan team. Pakistan are a strong team and can always give you a hard time.”
Amir’s exciting career came to a shuddering halt during the Lord’s Test in 2010 when he and new-ball partner Mohammad Asif were caught bowling no-balls to order on the instructions of captain Salman Butt as part of a tabloid newspaper sting operation. All three received five-year bans from cricket and together with sports agent Mazhar Majeed, jail terms.
Amir, who served three months in an English young offenders institute, has only featured in the game’s shorter formats since his return to Pakistan duty in January.