Welcome home, Mohammad Amir

Those were dark days. Out there, in the gloom of a land in another continent, they had instructed a gullible teenager from the obscure Gujar Khan to overstep deliberately. His captain, Salman Butt, perhaps the man he trusted the most in a country he had never been to, had asked him to give away the extra run for some money. Whether the boy had an idea of what he was doing is debatable: what we can be sure of is, the fact that his idea about the repercussions was too hazy, too blurred for him to have a focused vision. He had no mentor to show him the way.

This, however, was no ordinary child. Mohammad Amir was already being hailed as the next Wasim Akram. Somewhere in the Wisden editorial room, he was probably being shortlisted as one of the Cricketers of the Year. There was no doubt over his potential. He had delivered as well. He was all set to take the mantle over, to carry on the legacy of the seemingly unending lineage of fast bowlers the country has produced.

Thankfully, he was a minor, and was sent to Feltham Young Offenders Institution for six months. He was released after serving three months. The nightmare had ended. But the war had only begun for Amir. READ: Mohammad Amir makes a comeback in the Pakistan side: Twitter reactions

It took over three years for Amir to return to domestic cricket. By now a man of 22, Amir made a comeback for Omar Associates. The man who was supposed to take new ball for Pakistan was now playing in Grade II Patron’s Trophy — a tournament that, for most, existed only on Google.

They lifted the ban. He played Twenty20 for Rawalpindi Rams. He played Quaid-e-Azam qualifiers, and then in the bigger stage. As the magic — the movement, those accurate yorkers, and more — seemed to return, the obvious question kept surfacing: will they let him play international cricket

Meanwhile, he made a detour of Bangladesh. Chittagong Vikings trusted him, gave him the opportunity. He paid them back with 14 wickets at 12.64. He went for a mere 5.56 an over. His wickets took him less than 14 balls. The Vikings finished last, but barring Amir, Shafiul Islam (13) was the only other bowler to take more than 4 wickets. READ: Mohammad Amir: “Delighted for the opportunity to wear the Pakistan green shirt once again”

We got a look at him in his new avatar. The eyes were hungrier; the face, slightly weather-beaten; the jaw, determined; it was the look of a person raring to go. This was not the susceptible teenager whose ban had once brought Michael Holding to the verge of breaking down.

This was a man.

But we, they, him, everyone kept asking that all-important question. When would he be playing at the big stage?

They, the seniors, the teammates, the fans were divided in opinion as to whether Amir should play for Pakistan again. “A traitor”, some called him. Others were ready to forgive a boy who had committed an error in his adolescence, had served in sentence, and had been through years of ignominy and isolation from the sport.

But PCB included him. New Zealand granted him the visa. He would probably have wanted to have a go first, but Kane Williamson put Pakistan in. They lost 8 wickets, and Amir was the only one not to take field.

It was, however, only a matter of time. Those minutes between innings were certainly among the longest Amir had spent in his life. He was probably tense — too tense when Shahid Afridi threw him the ball; he responded with a wide outside leg.

Afridi could have given Amir a wicket in his second over, but he grassed a dolly at cover. Williamson got away. Amir would have loved to send Williamson back, but it probably did not matter, for he was finally playing cricket for Pakistan. His first two overs went for 10. Afridi took him off, holding him for the end.

Then, with New Zealand requiring 50 off 24, Amir was summoned again. Once again they went after him. This time Todd Astle cut him hard — and once again it was grassed, this time by Sohaib Maqsood at backward-point.

It could have been 2.2-0-11-2. Everything remained the same, barring the wickets column. Williamson went after Amir, smashing two boundaries. 3-0-21-0, his figures read.

New Zealand needed 30 from 12 balls when Amir came to bowl his final overs. Williamson was fighting a lost battle. Matt Henry smashed a four, but Amir had things under control. They needed 20 from 7.

Then Amir steamed in, for one final time. He aimed for the yorker. The line was a shade outside off. Henry gave it a whack just before it pitched. Amir saw the ball being bludgeoned to cover — flat, in the air — towards his captain — would Afridi drop it again?

Not this time. Afridi took the catch. Amir was happy, but more importantly, he looked relieved, very relieved, for he was back where he belonged.

Welcome home, Amir.

The article was published on CricketCountry.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)