“A rising star. A genius. The next Wasim Akram. A legend in the making”.
“When conceived, it was a project of almost unimaginable boldness and foolhardiness, requiring great bravura, risking great hubris.”
Simon Winchester’s words in The Professor and the Madman can at once be related to the happenings that unfolded on the second day of the final Test match between England and Pakistan in London at Lord’s. Even though the home side were up 2-1 in the series, the visiting team had put on a spirited performance at The Oval in the third game, and much was expected from the Salman Butt-led side in the series decider. Only 12.3 overs were bowled on a cloudy and an overcast day on Day One and when the battle resumed on Day 2, it was a battle for survival and of technique – as a young pacer steamed in to threaten the old English stalwarts who remained befuddled at the pace being generated by the 18-year-old.
As Mohammad Amir kept breaking into his trademark aeroplane celebration after first picking up Alastair Cook, who failed to read a ball that angled away from the left-hander, then Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Eoin Morgan within seven deliveries, the stage was set for a perfect showdown. The home team had been reduced to 102 for 7, with Amir picking up 6 of the seven wickets and no matter where the loyalties flowed, it remained a moment of great pleasure to watch a young player bowl so consistently and so beautifully.
A rising star. A genius. The next Wasim Akram. A legend in the making.
Maybe this is what remains Test cricket’s greatest aura. While patriotism does flow forth, the sight of a youngster from the rival camp tricking your team’s players into submission remains unparalleled. In an age when T20s have gained prominence, the young cricketers from the new era who do stick around in the sweat of the longer format are bestowed with a different kind of adulation. They are egged on even further and on a gloomy day at Lord’s in 2010, Amir was subject to just that.
However, a 322-run stand between Stuart Broad and Jonathan Trott for the eighth wicket took the game away from the Pakistani squad, who collapsed to 74 all out in their first innings. Following on, they were reduced to 41 for 4 after Day 3, and a bleak Day 4 loomed ahead. Destiny does have its weird ways of functioning they say, and the predicted ominous day for Pakistan turned even muckier as a news tabloid News of the World ran a story of how a man, later identified as Mazhar Majeed, had taken a sum of 150,000 pounds from a journalist to get Amir and his bowling partner Mohammad Asif to bowl no-balls in particular moments of the match.
In the video that was shared, Majeed promised that Amir would bowl the first over of the innings and that the first ball of the third over would be a no-ball. The player, who generally never overstepped did indeed bowl a huge no-ball in the said delivery, much to the shock of then-coach Waqar Younis, who kept asking Amir the reason for his overstepping.
But little would the former reverse-swing bowler have known that the no-balls were not a result of a faulty technique but of a larger hideous crime, which, when revealed, threatened to disrupt the happenings in world cricket.
Amir remained the only player out of Asif and Butt to admit to his “stupidity” but the world could not recover from the shock of how the player they had adored just a day earlier could cheat the sport and the game in the most downtrodden manners ever.
Cheater. Corrupt. Liar. Pathetic.
Even as the layers of shame enveloped the cricket fanatics, Amir kept proving how he had been played but no one, in particular, was ready to let go of his misgivings. Not only was he banned for a period of five years, he was also sent to prison for six months, which was brought down to three after a strict warning had been issued to him of the repercussions if the crime was repeated.
His return to professional cricket had the world divided, with players like Pietersen, Broad, Ramiz Raja, Azhar Ali and Mohammad Hafeez strictly against the comeback of Amir, who, they felt, had turned rogue and was directly responsible for the lack of trust that the fans had around the game since the fateful day at Lord’s. However, he did stage a comeback in Tests at the very same ground that had plotted his downfall and with 3 wickets, he slowly but surely ensured that he was here to stay. Coupled with Amir’s innocent pleas for acceptance and a fantastic bowling form that has seen him take 49 wickets in 17 Tests, the universe around stood up to embrace the genius of Amir once more.
This time when the pacer arrives back at the venue, he steps foot a relieved man – sans the trauma that had encircled him way back in 2016. Then, he was unsure of the hallowed Lord’s welcoming him. He was certain that they viewed him as a villain who had no reason to be on the field. Even his teammates had voiced opinions over his place in the squad and the close-knit cricketing family was determined to do well without him.
Two years hence, Amir returns at the back of a 5-wicket haul against Ireland, certain that the rapturous crowd will have forgotten the misdeeds that took place eight years ago. He knows that he cannot wipe away the ghosts of the past, but in his eagerness to script a new start, Amir has already prevailed.