July 14, 2016

Should cricket have been ruthless with Amir?

There's a case for saying the authorities should have made an example of him for the sake of the game, but then cricket has always stood for second chances
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In or out? The opinion is divided on Mohammad Amir's return

What are riches untold in a life without compassion?
For there's no winter as cold
As a life without compassion.
There's no prescription that's sold
That can heal you like compassion.

As any regular readers of this column's unabashedly indulgent ramblings may have detected, music is my first love and it will be my last (although plugging John Miles' philosophy is not something I do with much enthusiasm). Graeme Wright, the estimable erstwhile editor of Wisden, even went so far as to dub me the first rock n' roll cricket writer, a badge I wear with unseemly pride. Even so, my hero Todd Rundgren's plea for compassion has been falling on ever stonier ground of late - most troublingly, I readily confess, in the case of Mohammad Amir.

As some of you might conceivably have noticed, my tolerance of match-/spot-fixing is approximately nine degrees below zero. Indeed, to attempt to predetermine even the merest millisecond of a sporting contest is, quite frankly, almost as despicable as racism. Dick Pound, the admirable Canadian lawyer who until recently spearheaded the drive to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs with impressively extreme prejudice, told a conference in Denmark last year that corruption was now the most dastardly enemy of fair and credible competition.

To plot a result, or even a no-ball, deprives the competitive arts of their very essence: uncertainty, suspense and drama. That's why it holds us in such a vice-like grip; and that's why my compassion for Amir has waxed and waned with such shameful frequency. As for those who have no compunction in persuading others to defraud spectators and subscribers, such as H***** C***** and S***** B***, I cannot even bring myself to type their names, much less - in the case of the former - mourn their passing.

There is no need to remind you of the events of 2010, Amir's tender age, or the vast gulf in privilege between him and B***, the scruple-free captain who took such deplorable advantage of his insecurity. That both served the same time in jail and the same five-year ICC suspension only reinforces the rank, perverse injustice of it all.

That Amir deserves every ounce of compassion we can muster is beyond dispute, but can a case not be made with equal conviction that cricket would make an infinitely more important statement by withholding it, by being mercilessly ruthless?

So how do I feel about Amir's return to NW8? Roughly as equivocal as I do about the prospect of a female prime minister whose home contains a shrine to that accursed Thatcher woman: delighted that someone without an Adam's apple is going to take up residence at 10 Downing Street, utterly and profoundly depressed that Theresa May should offer our troubled nation so little by way of goodness, direction or relief.

On the one hand, as Amir's precocious performances here half a dozen summers ago so sumptuously demonstrated, he has it in him to match - or perhaps even exceed - the fabulous feats of his countryman Wasim Akram, the greatest of all brisk left-arm ball-benders. On the other, his return to centre stage accentuates my despair at the alacrity with which sport is descending into fraudulent farce.

Amir's return - an act of compassion or a display of fraudulent farce? © Getty Images

For centuries boxing and horse racing were the prime culprits. Nor should it ever be forgotten that the laws of our trivial pursuit were drawn up expressly to combat corruption, nor that the earliest MCC tours of Australia were bedevilled by premeditated outcomes. Nor that baseball's formative years were consistently polluted by such dastardly deeds. Now even tennis has been poisoned by those to whom money means more than merit. As for that hardy perennial wrestling, home to such tough-as-nails troubadours as Mick McManus and Big Daddy, let's just remind ourselves what WWE stands for: not World Wrestling Endeavour or World Wrestling Effort but World Wrestling Entertainment.

The best bit of blindingly obvious advice I could give myself, therefore, would be to steer clear of St John's Wood for the next few days. The problem with that, however, is that it is also home to Harry M's, which, according to Matthew Engel and myself, is indubitably the planet's finest purveyor of chopped liver, salt beef, cold fried haddock, potato latkes, blintzes and lockshen pudding.

That Amir deserves every ounce of compassion we can muster is beyond dispute, but can a case not be made with equal conviction that cricket would make an infinitely more important statement by withholding it, by being mercilessly ruthless?

After all, the eight members of the Chicago White Sox team who conspired to throw the 1919 World Series were all banned sine die; even Buck Weaver, whose only crime was to be aware of the original negotiations with Abe Rothstein's henchmen, and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the illiterate farmboy whose displays against the Cincinnati Reds - bar some fumbles in the field - were never less than inspirational (hence his rebirth in Field of Dreams). Can it be entirely coincidental that match-fixing has never subsequently darkened the doors of Major League Baseball? Do bees sting?

Having endured problems with trust in recent years I recently decided to purge myself of anger by forgiving those responsible. And that's why I will be urging Amir on rather than banging on about why not everyone deserves a second chance. And if cricket stands for anything, it is second chances.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton. His book Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport is out now

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • shabbi2167821 on July 15, 2016, 12:29 GMT

    My humble request would be to keep this debate for sometime at the end of the series again this would be for the game of cricket. Why Aamir be reminded his past when court has cleared him. Lets respect his talent atleast here onward!

  • David on July 14, 2016, 19:34 GMT

    @ WENGEROUT, agree with you totally! The chap was only a teenager when he committed this senseless deed! His captain, the ring leader, someone he respected and looked up to saw a vulnerable and impressionable young lad he could take advantage of and pounced upon the opportunity! To ban him for the rest of his life from doing what he is good at would be a travesty of justice. Each case is separate and the severity of the punishment must fit the crime. In which case, Amir was found guilty, he served his time and ultimately good sense prevailed by allowing him a second chance.

  • Nikhil on July 14, 2016, 18:46 GMT

    A society's job is to correct wrong behavior-through imprisonment, penalty, and in some cases, by death as a deterrent! And it is society's prerogative then to rehabilitate those that have been through the punishment. What society cannot do is to allow revenge! Are the English cricketers (both current and ex) stating that somehow, cricket has a higher moral ground that all the other crimes that humans are capable of? That somehow, taking the livelihood of a 24 year old away, forever, because he committed a sin, for which he has paid for, for which he has suffered for, in multiple ways, is actually correct? Should we not allow Amir a chance for rehabilitation? The poor guy was 19, an age where anyone slightly older is a father figure; an age where one can be easily manipulated - he confessed, he was sentenced, he paid for it for 5 years, and now he is being given a chance to make it right, and all these guys come running out in drones berating him? Shameful! I hope Amir the best of luck

  • forlif1220049 on July 14, 2016, 18:30 GMT

    Lads, don't just just limit your thinking to "legalities" of issues like these, beauty of sports lies neither in legalities nor in facts and figures (cf comparisons with akram) but in moments; moments like when a magical performance from a star sportsman brings joy to different strata of people cutting across boundries. example:- just imagine a terminally ill patient having no hope to cling on to life, and such moments can add that much needed joy to his otherwise barren life. Further, legacy of exceptional players like a Virat Kohli or a Mohammed Amir will not just be about the number of matches they won for their nations but also about the impression they leave on budding sportsmen. About how many kids they inspire to pursue this beautiful game, which is slowly dying. Aamir will produce a lot of such moments for us all to cherish and given a second chance, he will certainly inspire next gen athletes across the world to take up the sport. PS:- Loved the lines by Todd Rundgren, Sir.

  • OmerPaki123 on July 14, 2016, 18:29 GMT

    I agree 100% to the question that why Amir and Butt were suspended for the same period i mean Butt was the "lead conspirator" he should've been banned for life but ICC made a bad decision, there is nothing wrong with being merciful to juniors but neglecting the mistakes of seniors is an utter shame.

  • zoco204377829 on July 14, 2016, 17:39 GMT

    At his age any one can be naïve and make mistake any where in the world, he listen to his senior they used this kid for their greed, he told the truth and got punishment of his first ever mistake ,and paid very heavy price where as many got away from any fine or punishment.

  • Vijayakrishna on July 14, 2016, 17:07 GMT

    It will be interesting to see, every "no ball" he bowls now on...

  • kalyanbk on July 14, 2016, 16:58 GMT

    It depends on how difficult it is to catch the culprits and stop this crime in the first place. If the crime is minor and easy to detect, society needs to consider giving a second chance (e.g. traffic ticket). But if the crime is hard to detect, cheats thousands of paying fans, teammates, sponsors, broadcasters and the nations playing and if the perpetrators are willful participants and profiting financially, it is on par with betraying your nation for money. An example of what happens if we do not condemn corruption is politicians around the world who are becoming more brazen with corruption.

  • haris on July 14, 2016, 15:43 GMT

    Mercilessly ruthless?? Sorry to say this isn't a warfare going on.. Setting examples is a good option but a person having been back in the International circuit and playing cricket should not be asked questions about his horrid past from which he has been exonerated and is a forgettable option. Hovering around a topic of the past periodically sends wrong signals to the concerned players. Make a rule for the future now.

  • Vinod on July 14, 2016, 11:48 GMT

    A young kid made mistakes, did his time, paid his penalty dues to society and so on....and deserves a second chance-am overjoyed he is back....

    just as an after thought how much of a factor is the depth of talent that MA has....in getting the aquittal and chance to play TC again with majority of the public support....would he have the same support if he was not so talented...say he was your average run of the mill bowler albeit a test level one, would the level of sympathy he has garnered frm the public be any lesser or the same....like in real life, end of the day, he is a human who made mistakes, deserves to be judged fairly irrespective of the talent he possesses, unfortunately life does'nt always work that way...my 5 c rant over....bring on the cricket...go aaamir....from your indian fan