Not going into the merits of the whole despicable episode scarring our cricket, I was personally pained to see involvement of overly talented Amir. Regretfully PCB's top hierarchy had done the disappearing act and I had to face the hostile media. I felt like giving him benefit of doubt while defending all three as "innocent until proven guilty".
Amir was sucked into the seamy side of cricket’s vicious environment at the age of 19 when he took the cricketing world by storm. Keen game lovers saw in him reincarnation of yet another immortal that had made one’s mark with the ball, some by being unplayable, others by ball tampering and getting away with it too.
Amir’s strident run to the wicket, his speed, style, his manoeuverability of the ball and demeanour - all had different meaning for different people for different reasons. While he overawed game lovers by his bowling skills, he attracted vultures out there to hunt new blood to make money.
One underworld professional who trapped him to cause immense suffering for over five years found him easy prey in London in 2010. It was more by virtue of his company as a junior with two others who were senior to him, one being his skipper.
By this time he had become an immensely prized player. Amir was soaring high on the trajectory of astounding successes one after the other. His bowling was a treat to watch. And that is when he was struck and got entrapped by the influence of his company as well as the devil-may-care attitude of the board that was more interested in making big money rather than keeping its boys away from vicious gold diggers.
Being a lover of the game, it was music to my ears that PCB Chairman Shahryar Khan has called him to fitness camp for the cricketers who could be selected for World T20 to be played in India next year. Neither over-emphasising the need nor undervaluing it, one could foresee windfall results from such a sizzling performer — a match winner who has the capacity to take Pakistan to the top.
However, one was shocked by the petty-mindedness of some of his colleagues as well as retired seniors who objected to his inclusion in the camp on the ground of morality and their holier than thou façade. Quite a few of them sounded like devils quoting from scriptures. One would like to remind them and ask them to search their souls. Amir’s only fault was – with two others more senior to him - that he got caught as well. One cannot give the number of players who got sold over the years to the bookies or name the countries where the betting business is legitimate.
Cricket is no more a sport that was known in the yore. It is hardly a gentlemen or elitist’s game any more. It is now free-for-all and for all and sundry. And why not! What merits is to play well and outplay others — irrespective whether one is blue blooded or one coming from humble bearing to change over from rags to the prestigious kit, national blazer and big money too by virtue of one’s prowess with bat or the ball. There is more of pelf in it than it ever was, patriotism has become peripheral. It has come to be a multi-billion dollar commercial venture.
Like every other business, cricket too has element of wheeling-dealings by institutions and individuals. And of course it is a heaven for betting like any other sport. In football, clubs acquire ownership of big players carrying huge head money on each goal scored. Footballers, their clubs, managers and coaches all bask in gold and glitter. Billions get turned over from betting shops to the coffers of the big business.
Making a mountain of a mole-hill of a moral issue by some questioning Amir’s much deserved recall after his enormous penance, support to him by our cricketing greats like Imran Khan and Wasim Akram should be enough.
It is like testing the wit of our already loaded judiciary by some maverick to get it involved in stopping PCB from giving space to Amir to stage a comeback. It is much like a follower of a revered Maulana (now late) who tried to knock at the judicial doors to get rubbing of the ball on their thighs by fast bowlers banned.
One cannot forget that amusing episode. This great cleric known for his high-sounding lectures on religion and morality came out strongly expressing his reservations to the fast bowlers rubbing the ball on their thighs nearer the groin. One does not remember whose rubbing he objected to as some Test series was on at that time — it could either be Imran Khan or Wasim Akram.
It is a common practice world over since the inception of the use of leather ball that bowlers profusely rub it, some even spit and shine it on the front of their thighs/back, wherever they get pep for their performance and sustaining ball's effectiveness to get in and get out. I don’t remember his exact words and whose rubbing of the ball was matter of his concern. The cleric’s reference to it was a clear message that rubbing of the ball was an act of erotica.
It seemed much disturbing too for him as he felt such rubbing of the ball was sexually obscene. He demanded rubbing of the ball banned at least in the presence of female spectators. Rumour at that time had it that one of his followers sought judicial redress to seek ban on 'erotic ball rubbing' as an act that amounted to sexual arousal in public—falling in the category of obscenity punishable under the law.
(The author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan)
First Published: December 31, 2015, 10:56 AM IST