Return of the Prodigal
As the Pakistan cricket team gears up for the World T20 in India, a new controversy has surfaced concerning pace prodigy Muhammad Amir, with some of the senior players flagrantly opposing his return to the national side.
‘Professor’ Muhammad Hafeez, ODI captain Azhar Ali, now joined by Test skipper Misbahul Haq, are all voicing their opposition to Amir’s inclusion in the team. But the seniors are perhaps glossing over one basic fact. Amir was the first among the trio convicted in the infamous 2010 spot fixing scandal in England who confessed to the wrongdoing, served his five-year ban and underwent a rehabilitation period. On the other hand, Salman Butt and Muhammad Asif kept denying any wrongdoing until Amir admitted it.
The resistance from the seniors is certainly not healthy for the team’s future and the lack of initiative from high-ups in the Pakistan Cricket Board in dealing with the dissenting players is equally alarming. Despite being sidelined from cricket for five years, Amir has made an impressive comeback, giving roaring performances in the domestic as well as foreign T20 leagues.
In the recent Bangladesh Premier League, Amir got 13 scalps in eight matches and was a leading bowler for his team Chittagong Vikings. In fact, he became the cynosure of attention after impressively dismissing three top Pakistani players — Shahid Afridi, Misbahul Haq and Hafeez in different matches. Needless to say, Hafeez’s dismissal at the BPL made headlines in the news and the former Pakistan T20 captain was called out on social media by hundreds of Pakistani fans for crumbling to Amir’s classic pace.
Earlier, Hafeez had been adamant about not playing alongside a “corruption-tainted”Amir in the same team in the BPL. However, he played against Amir from a different franchise in the same league. Perhaps Hafeez would have had more of a moral high-ground if he had boycotted the BPL for featuring Amir. But monetary incentives offered in the league were perhaps too strong a lure.
In the latest volte-face, commentator Ramiz Raja who was among the most vocal opponents of Amir, until he was appointed brand ambassador of the Pakistan Super League, has now altered his view. He is now suggesting that the PCB resolve the Amir issue through negotiations. Until recently, he had been openly clamouring that Amir should never again be included in the national side as had brought shame to the country.
At the same time, it has been heartening to see some cricket greats like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis (Pakistan team head coach) and Mushtaq Ahmed standing by Amir and calling for ‘another chance’ to be given to the young bowler.
As for Hafeez and Azhar, the duo may have apprehensions that Amir’s inclusion will also pave the way for Salman Butt, hence challenging the positions of the Pakistan team’s current openers. It was surprising to see ODI captain Azhar Ali appearing in the media and openly voicing his opposition to Amir’s return. This surely warrants some disciplinary action from the PCB. The cricket board is apparently finding a way for Amir’s return to the team, while on the other hand, some key players are exploiting the issue in the media for their own gains.
The ball is now in the PCB’s court. One thing is for sure — Amir is destined to make his way into the team sooner or later in the wake of his remarkable performance in other leagues. It would be in the greater interest of team Pakistan if the pacer is included in the final squad for the World T20 scheduled in India next March. T20 captain Shahid Afridi has a fair idea of his team’s strength as well as the importance of the upcoming mega event. That is why he is lending his silent support to Amir.
The PCB will also face the challenge of ensuring Amir’s sustainability in the ODI and Test teams once he does make a comeback since skippers of both the formats have openly disputed his inclusion. It is time for the cricket board to show some leadership as well as diplomacy and resolve this dispute for the good of the national team.
The writer tweets @Azharkh4