Every now and then sport offers delightful moments of suspended disbelief, leaving you gaping in awe at the exploits of a sporting protagonist. As the Pakistani team walked out in Mirpur to defend their meagre total of 83, few, if any, anticipated the kind of drama that unfolded at the Shere Bangla National Stadium.
The exploits of Mohammad Amir who was returning from a self-inflicted betting wound, reminded us of the emotional spell cast by that prisoner transformation classic called Shawshank Redemption. One does not really know how Amir spent the prison time he earned for dirtying his soul in the dust bowl of match fixing.
But soon as he came running in and aiming at Rohit Sharma’s toe, it was clear Amir was eager to present a reformed face to the world. The 23 year old Pakistani bowler ran in hard, bowled with venom, swung the cherry viciously in a spectacular display of fast bowling prowess.
The five year void seemed to dissolve miraculously as Amir produced a spell binding performance in Mirpur. It was as if Amir hadn’t missed practicing his craft for a moment as he sent three world class Indian batsmen back to the hut shaking their heads in dismay.
Opinion will always be divided on the best course of action against anyone who is found guilty of indulging in the nefarious act of fixing.
Many believe that offenders need to be banned for life to ensure that worst curse on sport is dealt with a firm response. It is difficult to argue with the logic of these proponents who suggest lasting incarceration is the only effective measure to deal with the cardinal sin of robbing sport of its innocence.
Amir’s actions, under the misguided leadership of Salman Butt and in the company of Mohammad Asif, invited widespread shock and disappointment in the cricketing world. The audacity of the trio, who thought nothing of defacing the game at its spiritual home, left the soul of cricket lying in a shattered mess on the bloodied lawns of Lord’s.
No punishment was enough for their heinous act of greed and deception. Naturally, there were some that felt that Amir’s six month sentence and the three months he spent in jail were meek retribution for the scale of crime. But the young man, just 18 at the time of the incident, was also banned from all forms of cricket for five painfully long years.
It is very clear that Amir was subject to the power of his captain and perhaps far too naïve to understand the full import of his actions given the overall environment of the dressing room he lived in at the time.
We wouldn’t be wrong in presuming that Amir has learnt his lessons the hard way through his sinful expressions at Lord’s and the agonizing absence from the game he fell in love with very early in his life.
His time away from competitive cricket and his marriage with British citizen Narjis Khatoon may have also served to help Amir mature into a young man with a deeper sense of appreciation of both the game and his own talents.
If his performance on Saturday was any indicator, it is clear that Amir has retained the raw edge that marks him out as a dangerous bowler as well as a high degree of fitness. The young bowler was able to produce a spell of seriously probing left arm pace bowling, swinging the ball as sharply as ever with speeds in excess of 140kph.
"I would like to compliment Mohammad Amir for his spell. I actually congratulated him while I was batting,” acknowledged an impressed Virat Kohli.“I was so happy to play that kind of a spell. He's a world-class bowler. Hats off to the way he bowled and God bless him with more success"
Considering that Kohli was the man that stood between Pakistan and victory and as the one that negated the final few deliveries of that probing 24 ball spell, he must have seen something extraordinary to applaud an opponent even while he was in the middle.
"You have to give credit to Amir. I think he bowled really well. The length was crucial. For a left-armer, he could bowl slightly more up and that was the length. It becomes very tricky,” said Dhoni doing a quick post-match analysis of the young bowler.
“You want to cover the swing. If you move too much in, there are chances of LBW and if you're not covering the line then there are chances of (getting) caught behind, caught at slips also,” explained Dhoni. “I feel he used the condition really well. It was very good bowling, especially the first three overs, he was right on the mark" The Indian captain was on the mark too with each of those words he spoke about Amir.
The one question that isn’t easy to answer though is whether Amir has truly learnt his lessons about the value of integrity in life and sport. The intensity of his efforts against India, the raw passion and his ability to control the cherry despite a long absence, suggest that Amir is eager to put the past to bed and script a second coming.
Given his youthful exuberance and a natural talent for bowling, it is only fair that the world of cricket allows Amir a second chance at life. In keeping his bowling sharp and his body chiseled fit, the bowler has shown that he is willing to be deeply committed to a career in cricket.
We could be witness to a brilliant career for the young bowler, if he can continue his journey of redemption with the zeal and energy that was evident yesterday. Amir will also need to focus on taming batsmen, while keeping a check on his floundering feet and wandering soul.
Let us hope he does exactly that, for there is hardly anything in sport that excites us as much as a journey of redemption and transformation.