Amir return potential trigger to fresh unrest in Pakistan cricket?

Mohammad Amir and Babar Azam
Mohammad Amir and Babar Azam (PC: Pakistan Cricket/X)

Mohammad Amir is a prisoner of his misdeed. He will remain a victim of perception. No wonder then, that his recall to the Pakistan team has divided opinion. Two former skippers, talking to RevSportz, welcomed the development though.

Only about a fortnight ago, Amir announced his decision to come out of retirement after a patch-up with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). On Tuesday, he was included in the 17-member squad for the upcoming home T20I series against New Zealand.

Only about a year ago, he was talking about playing in the IPL, after acquiring a British passport. A year down the line, he is ready to play for Pakistan again. Things can change at the drop of a hat (read, at the change of guard in the PCB) in Pakistan cricket.

Amir had hung up his international boots in 2020, accusing the PCB management of “mental torture”. His tweet on March 24 read: “I still dream to play for Pakistan!” It added: “Life brings us to the points where at times we have to reconsider our decisions, There has been few positive discussions (sic) between myself and the PCB where they respectfully made me feel that I was needed and can still play for Pakistan after discussing with family and we’ll (sic) wishers I declare that I am available to be considered for upcoming t20WC, I want do this for my country as it comes before my personal decisions.” 

While picking Amir for the New Zealand series, Pakistan’s national selection committee member Wahab Riaz said: “The decision to include Imad Wasim and Mohammad Amir was a straightforward one, given their availability for selection and considering Haris Rauf’s injury and Mohammad Nawaz’s current form. Both Amir and Imad possess undeniable match-winning capabilities, and we trust they will consistently deliver strong performances to bolster the team’s objectives.”

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Amir, at his peak, can run through any batting line-up. Rewind to the 2017 Champions Trophy final and his first spell that had accounted for Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan. Fakhar Zaman scored a hundred in that game, but Amir’s spell won Pakistan the trophy. Circa 2024, and things could be a little different. In a few days, he will turn 32. Also, does he have miles in his legs? Yes, Amir has been playing league cricket, the latest being the Pakistan Super League. But international cricket is a different ball game.

Putting aside the cricketing nitty-gritty, there’s an ethical part to it as well. Does it reflect well on a national team when a person, who was at the centre of the infamous 2010 spot-fixing scandal — Amir pleaded guilty and was banned for five years — turns up to play for his country? Former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja, who also served as the PCB chairman, was out-and-out against it.

“My views on Mohammad Amir are very simple. I haven’t taken an oath to moral-police cricket, but I believe it’s important for society and fans to understand. When he was involved in fixing, I was commentating at Lord’s, and I could feel the intense hatred directed towards me because people were identifying me with the fixers. Cricket is not society. In society, you can allow someone back (to the mainstream) after he/she has served his punishment. This is not cricket’s job. In cricket, if you are tainted, you are out,” Raja recently said, speaking to a TV channel in Pakistan.

Former Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal begged to differ. “You are asking me, if a player who has served his punishment, should be allowed back to the game? The answer is, yes and yes. When a player has served his punishment, it is done and dusted,” Iqbal told RevSportz.

Another ex-Pakistan skipper, Javed Miandad, agreed. “Ekbar mafi hota hai, mafi ke baad mafi nahi hota hai (you can forgive someone once, but not a second time),” the batting legend told RevSportz. “Back then, he (Amir) was a kid. Maybe, someone brainwashed him. Galti kar baithe (he made a mistake). But he has served his punishment and everyone deserves a second chance.”

Mohammad Amir and Imad Wasim
Mohammad Amir and Imad Wasim (PC: X)

This has been a period of upheaval in Pakistan cricket, under Mohsin Naqvi (PCB chairman). A seven-member selection committee has been appointed, paving the way for Babar Azam’s return as white-ball captain. Poor Shaheen Shah Afridi, not only was he removed from captaincy after just one away series, but the PCB also attributed a statement to the fast bowler that he didn’t say reportedly. It left Shaheen furious and an emergency meeting had to be held to pacify him.

Babar, meanwhile, has lost his popularity as a captain in the Pakistan dressing room. Shaheen will be there as a disgruntled figure. Also, Imad is back and he was never quite pally with Babar. In fact, there’s a school of thought that Imad retired from international cricket due to his differences with Babar. Like Amir, he, too, has reversed his decision. As for Amir, until very recently, he was a harsh critic of Babar’s captaincy, slamming the latter after Pakistan’s failure to reach the 2023 World Cup semi-finals.

Dressing room revolts against captains is not new in Pakistan cricket. Miandad faced it. Waqar Younis faced it. Asked if Babar could be walking a tightrope, a senior Pakistan journalist said: “Yeh toh honehi wala hai (that is going to happen anyway).”

Pakistan cricket has a habit of making things volatile ahead of a big tournament. It happened before the 1996 World Cup. Things haven’t changed a lot 28 years down the line, with the T20 World Cup round the corner.

Also Read: Maidaan – Sports Films and National Imagination

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