Unfortunately I was not able to watch the full interview that Mohammed Amir gave to Michael Atherton, but I found a transcript and it makes for very interesting reading. Amir is very contrite, saying ‘I told myself that I’d definitely done wrong and would accept the truth, whatever the consequences’ and ‘What I can say is that I think I deserved to be punished’. At the same time, however, he says that he was ‘tricked’ into the fixing by Salman Butt, at whose feet he lays the blame.
Amir says that he panicked and made an error of judgement. That is a plausible and far-reaching defence, but also one for which it is hard to provide evidence. It is worth mentioning that as intelligent and well-spoken as Atherton is, he is not a QC and thus not trained in cross examination. There is a particular portion of Amir’s testimony which struck me as suspicious: he gave his bank details to an unknown third party ‘Ali’ before the Oval Test, apropos of nothing according to Amir. Supposedly he did so because the man was a friend of Butt’s. This is not something I could even imagine anyone doing. I know that Amir’s circumstances are very different from those with which I am familiar, but even so I cannot think of a compelling reason to give one’s bank details to a complete stranger. At the same time, he was given the money for his no-balls in cash, which would be very odd if he had already given his bank details to the fixers. Amir also never answered why he texted ‘so in the first 3 bowl whatever you like and in the last 2 do 8 runs’ before he had been supposedly pressured into bowling the no-balls at Lord’s. It these points on which I think a skilled QC would have pressed and perhaps got a clearer picture than Atherton did.
I am by no means convinced of the veracity of Amir’s story, though the rest of his story is very believable. He claims that Butt and Mazheer told him that the ICC knew of his original phone calls and the only way to stay out of trouble was to follow along with Butt’s fixing. Whilst this is, on the face of it, a rather outlandish claim, the notion that he panicked and accepted is not. If it is true he would be far from the first one to do so. From there he is mostly very contrite, whilst also speaking of his anger with Butt, who Amir considered his ‘older brother’. In general it is a very good interview and it is nice to see him (mostly) take responsibility.
It will inevitably bring up the subject of whether Amir’s ban was too heavy. If one accepts his story as true, then it is easy to paint a picture with it of a young man who had few other options. That would, I think, be ill-advised. Even if one overlooks the illogic of Amir giving away his phone details, the fact that he was pressured into it would only be a reason for some leniency, certainly not any sort of pardon. It must be remembered that the ban is not merely a punishment for Amir, but a shot across the bows of other would-be fixers. The ICC, or any governing body, can never rigourously police and investigate every delivery of every match, they are reliant on informants. As preferable as it would be to use the ‘carrot’ and offer rewards to them, it carries the risk of false claims and is anyway unlikely to match the rewards of fixing. The only direct incentive to report fixing then is the threat of a lengthy ban for all those involved. For Amir, I think five years is about right. He will almost certainly play again, he will still be younger than some debutants when he his ban expires, but his career will have been curtailed and his reputation will probably never fully recover.
The fact that Butt and Asif also only got, in effect, five years is inexcusable, however. Again, I do not fully accept the claim that Butt tricked Amir into fixing, but he was still clearly heavily involved. He had to be, he was the captain and made for a natural organiser. There is no doubt in my mind that he should have been given a life ban and the fact that he wasn’t displayed the spinelessness of the ICC.