I love cricket. It’s my first sporting love. And I follow it around the world as much as I can.
I’m looking forward to the Test Series between England and Pakistan now underway in England – not merely because it should be a good series but because of the backstory tale of redemption behind one of the cricketers.
We rewind to 2010 when bowler Mohammed Amir was 18 and newly-arrived into the Pakistani cricket team. A player agent and newspaper had set-up a ‘sting’ to show that players were corruptible by arranging some spot-fixing. Butt and another player, Mohammad Asif, turned to Amir, the youngest and newest player in the team. They convinced him to bowl two no balls. He did.
On the balance of probabilities, his actions may not have had an impact on the outcome of the game. But that is not the point.
He did the wrong thing. He did know better. He was found out. He admitted to it. He was punished. He received a six month gaol sentence in England and was banned from the sport for five years.
I recall when he was dragged away by the Metropolitan Police six years ago that my first thought was whether they had the right guy. It seemed to me it was like punishing the drug mule but letting the so-called ‘mastermind’ behind trafficking and dealing get away with it simply to find another mule.
I also think back to when I was 18. If I had been talented enough to wander into an Australian cricket team peppered with big names and big characters such as the Chappell brothers, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh, and if they had asked me to bowl two no-balls, would I have had the balls (excuse the pun) to say “no”?
My 50-year-old self would like to think so. But, chances are, when you’re 18 and you’ve hit the pinnacle of your chosen sport and senior members of the team are telling you to bowl what may have seemed like two inconsequential no-balls, you’d probably lean more to pleasing them than thinking about your moral compass.
Amir deserved punishment because of his role in spot-fixing. But did he do too much time? And did the authorities actually punish the right person?
The fight against match-fixing in all its guises is one of the great contemporary risks and challenges of sport. It is yet another reason why we should be looking at establishing a global anti-corruption agency for sport that has appropriate powers or leverage to find and deal with the puppet-masters that direct such activity – not merely the puppets who do it.
Best wishes to Mohammed Amir. He did the crime and he’s done the time. Everyone deserves an opportunity for redemption and I hope he is able to grasp the opportunity before him for all the good and right reasons.