Up until August 2010 when the world of cricket was shocked by his involvement in the spot-fixing scandal, the then eighteen year old Mohammad Amir was regarded as one of the world's top bowling talents and was tipped to become the rightful heir to the left-arm greatness of Wasim Akram. He and two other Pakistan players - Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt - were consequently banned for five year from playing cricket by the ICC. In September of 2015, the ban reached it's expiry and the Pakistan bowler now finds himself eligible to represent his country once again.
In an interview with PakPassion.net, the twenty-three year old Mohammad Amir spoke candidly about how he coped for five years with being away from a game that he loves, his hopes to attain the status of Pakistan's top bowler again, how he intends to tackle the negative reaction which he may get from fellow players and fans on his return and also explained why he feels excited about his future..
By Saj Sadiq (21st September, 2015)
PakPassion.net : How has life been since your return to cricket?
Mohammad Amir : Things have been going well. I'm very happy with how things are progressing. I made a good start when I was playing Grade II cricket and that boosted my confidence and then I played in a Twenty20 tournament in Faisalabad and that went to my satisfaction also. I've recently finished playing in a Twenty20 tournament in Rawalpindi and I was very happy with my bowling rhythm during that tournament. I feel as if day by day my bowling is improving. As you will have seen in the tournament in Rawalpindi my pace is increasing and my confidence is higher now so the signs are very good.
PakPassion.net : How grateful are you to the International Cricket Council for allowing you to return to cricket early?
Mohammad Amir : I really appreciative of the ICC's decision for allowing me the opportunity to return to cricket before my ban was due to end. In addition, I'm also very grateful to the Pakistan Cricket Board for allowing me to play domestic cricket ahead of my ban and to use their facilities at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore. I'd also like to convey my thanks to my legal team who helped me at a time when I was down and out and pulled me through a very difficult time in my life. Mike Atherton is someone else who's words and support really gave me a boost and inspired me. I've been given a second opportunity. Sometimes in life you don't get a second chance, but I want to make the most of this second life I have been given.
PakPassion.net : In 2010 you were widely regarded as one of the best bowlers in the world. Do you feel you can reach those heights again?
Mohammad Amir : The most important thing for me and what I am focussing on at this time is my fitness. I feel that as a fast bowler if you are fit, mentally and physically then the rest will follow. With fitness comes rhythm and confidence ; all three work in tandem. The more cricket I play, the fitter and stronger I feel and that helps me technically and mentally. I'm reaching a very important phase in my comeback soon and that is playing four day cricket for the first time. When I play four day cricket that will be a true test of my levels of fitness and whether I still have the ability to swing the ball both ways. I'm feeling stronger with each match but as I say, playing four day cricket will be a sterner test of my abilities. I'm not comparing myself to my previous standards as that would be unfair so soon into my comeback, but I'm confident that I am improving and will continue to improve in all facets of my game.
PakPassion.net : There were some rumours that you were practising on rooftops while you were banned. Are those stories accurate?
Mohammad Amir : No that is not accurate. In fact I couldn't practice anywhere. I worked on my fitness, did gym work and ensured I stayed as fit as possible but I didn't play any cricket during my ban.
PakPassion.net : How difficult was it to maintain an interest in making a comeback to cricket when you couldn't actually play or practice for five years?
Mohammad Amir : It was very difficult. I can't really express in words just how tough it was. Not being able to use the facilities at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore was difficult and as a fast bowler if you cannot train for one week that is detrimental, so imagine what it was like to be away from cricket for five years. The good thing now though is that I've been given a second chance and I'm working my way back to fitness and form.
PakPassion.net : During your five years away from cricket, what did you do? How did you keep your mind occupied?
Mohammad Amir : Firstly I studied. I had some home tuition so that kept me busy. I also performed Umrah and I also worked as a cricket analyst on some television shows during the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The five years were slow going and it wasn't easy but I got there in the end.
PakPassion.net : There must have come a time during your ban when you thought I'm done with cricket and thought of turning your back on the game?
Mohammad Amir : Yes there were times when that happened. When you feel you have nowhere to turn and every door is being closed in your face then you do think of giving up. I did think of turning my back on cricket and doing something else but then I was lucky enough to have friends around me who told me that I could make a comeback and that I shouldn't give up. That support was vital at a time when I was at my lowest and I will always be grateful to those people around me who showed me support when I needed it most.
PakPassion.net : As fate would have it, Pakistan's first Test next year on the tour of England is at Lord's. How do you feel about playing at Lord's again and is that Test a realistic target for your international return?
Mohammad Amir : The Almighty is the only one who knows what will happen tomorrow or in future. I need to keep my feet on the ground and not plan too far ahead. My focus is on domestic cricket at the moment and it would be premature for me to start thinking about when or if I will play for Pakistan again. I'm not worrying over when I will play for Pakistan, instead I am just focussing on my domestic form and then leaving the rest to the selectors. Whether I make my return to Pakistani colours at Lord's or elsewhere is out of my hands, I just need to make sure that I am mentally and physically ready for the challenge of international cricket when it is presented to me.
PakPassion.net : You say that your focus is on domestic cricket, but there is already a lot of support for your immediate return to the Pakistan side?
Mohammad Amir : I'm pleased that people are thinking like that but my priority has to be domestic cricket. I have to take things step by step and not try to get ahead of myself. International cricket is a tough environment it's not a joke. There is a lot of pressure on you in international cricket and I feel that I have to ensure that I am fully ready before I'm talked about for an international recall.
I think I will know when my rhythm is back and I will know when I am ready. I feel that playing some high profile domestic matches, particularly four day cricket will definitely help me in my quest to play for Pakistan again.
The public need to realise that I have been away from cricket for five years which is such a long time and that I need to make sure that I am definitely ready and well prepared for international cricket, otherwise it could go wrong.
PakPassion.net : Seven wickets in your comeback match in four-day cricket. That must be extremely pleasing and at the same time it will increase the calls for an early return for you to international cricket?
Mohammad Amir : I'm really satisfied with my seven wickets against ZTBL in my first four day match after my ban. It couldn't have gone any better really on a very flat track. However this is just the beginning and I have a lot of hard work ahead of me before I'm ready for international cricket.
PakPassion.net : Are you concerned that when you return to international cricket, some players will not be comfortable that you have been selected given what happened in 2010?
Mohammad Amir : Everyone has their own opinions and they are entitled to those opinions. But at the end of the day a cricket team is like a family and like you do with your family you spend a lot of time with your teammates. There are always minor issues to resolve, but I think the rehabilitation programmes the PCB has set up where I meet with the current international players will help. I think if there are any issues they will be resolved and any misunderstandings will be cleared up.
PakPassion.net : You must have had some concerns ahead of the recently concluded Twenty20 tournament about how your home fans will react to your return?
Mohammad Amir : I played in Faisalabad in a twenty over tournament and the fans reaction was excellent and very positive. I wasn't sure what to expect from the Rawalpindi crowds but the reaction from them has been heart-warming. I'm delighted that they've accepted me again and have shown their love for me. I can't thank the crowds in Rawalpindi and around Pakistan enough for their overwhelming support wherever I have played. It's a major boost for me and for my confidence and I'm so grateful for the support.
PakPassion.net : How tough was life in prison?
Mohammad Amir : It was a very difficult time for me. During those days cricket and playing cricket again were the last things on my mind. In fact it was whilst in prison that I decided I wouldn't play cricket ever again. However my legal representatives really supported me through that time and motivated me to not give up on cricket. It's down to their support and the support from friends that I am playing cricket again, otherwise I would have walked away for good from the game I have always loved. I spent most of my time in prison studying and that helped me pass the time, but overall it wasn't an easy time for me.
PakPassion.net : Why did you let Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif to manipulate you?
Mohammad Amir : That was a very traumatic and difficult time for me. A time that I am trying to forget about and trying to move on from. Of course I cannot eradicate what happened but I can move forward from it. If I keep on thinking about what happened and why it happened and who did what, then I will never think about the future and instead will dwell in the past. This time now is to look to the future and grab the chance I have been given and ensure that I do not make the same mistakes that I did in the past. I've learnt a lot, I've grown up, matured and I'm ready to put the past behind me and make sure that I grab this opportunity I have been presented with both hands.
PakPassion.net : What did your rehabilitation with the ICC involve? What did you have to do?
Mohammad Amir : I said to the ICC that I was willing to help them in any way and they only had to ask me for my services. I wanted to ensure that no other young cricketer ever has to face the same drastic situations that I had to face. I wouldn't want even my enemies to go through what I had to go through. When your livelihood, when the game that you love is taken away from you for five years, it breaks your heart and I wouldn't want anyone else to suffer the way I had to.
PakPassion.net : How excited are you by the future?
Mohammad Amir : I think my future is bright, God-willing. Five years ago I was bowling well and I was very happy with my form but my career came to an abrupt halt. Whether I reach those levels again nobody knows, we shall see, but looking ahead, the world will see a different Mohammad Amir, a mature person. I feel I am on the right track on and off the field and I request everyone who has supported me through the tough times to continue to support me and I will not let them down.