The drama of Mohammad Amir should have more than one act…

I recently can across this excellent article by Marina Hyde which was published on http://www.guardian.co.uk on 1 September 2010.  Recommended reading!

The article can be read here; http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2010/sep/01/mohammad-amir-marina-hyde

Saturday’s hero Mohammad Amir received a muted welcome when he batted the next day (the day after spot fixing news broke out). Photograph: Gareth Copley/PA

Sport is about stories. The reason no one cared when Matt Le Tissier used his autobiography to confess spot-fixing was because his story was over. The heartbreak of Mohammad Amir being implicated in the Pakistan spot-fixing scandal is of course that his story was only just beginning, and even old hands instinctively romanticise the narrative of sport. For how many tens of millions of cricket fans did Nasser Hussain speak on Sunday morning, when he admitted his immediate thought on hearing of the allegations was “please don’t let it be the young lad”?

We can’t help but see sport like this, which is why fixing lends itself so evocatively to fiction. In the Godfather Part II, the Chicago Black Sox scandal serves as a character note for the mesmerically amoral Hyman Roth, who declares: “I’ve loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the world series”. Rothstein was the mafia gambler on whom Fitzgerald based the minor character of Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby, who is casually introduced to the narrator as “the man who fixed the World’s Series.”

“The idea staggered me,” the narrator relates. “It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people – with the single mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe. ‘How did he happen to do that?’ I asked after a minute. ‘He just saw the opportunity’,” is Gatsby’s affectless reply.

Perhaps inevitably, taking poetic licence with sport fixing doesn’t limit itself to art. Even in the realm of reality, fact tends to blur with fiction.  There is no contemporaneous record of the words “Say it ain’t so, Joe” ever being uttered, though that has not stopped the supposed child’s inquiry of the disgraced Shoeless Joe Jackson having passed into legend.

Despite the intense public attention on the grand jury investigation into the eight White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series, the only report that resembles the story was featured in a single Minnesota paper, which claimed Jackson emerged from the courthouse into a crowd of “several hundred youngsters, aged from 6 to 16”. (Very cinematic.) According to the paper’s account, “one urchin stepped up to the outfielder, and, grabbing his coat sleeve, said: ‘It ain’t true, is it Joe?’ ‘Yes kid, I’m afraid it is,’ Jackson replied. The boys opened a path for the ball player and stood in silence as he passed out of sight. ‘Well, I’d never have thought it,’ sighed the lad.” Forgive the cynicism, but I can’t help suspecting that sleeve-tugging urchin was about as real as the convenient “onlookers” and “close pals” that populate today’s tabloid stories.

Yet though it may not be literally true, the youngster’s tragic disillusionment has echoed down the years because it carries a psychological truth. Into this canon of truths literal and psychological we may induct the News of the World’s revelation that Mazhar Majeed, the alleged middleman of this latest scam, roused the teenage Mohammad Amir out of his bed on the eve of a Test match, and called the young prodigy a “fucker”, before informing him his instructions would keep till morning anyway. It is the sort of detail that if it hadn’t happened, one would have had to make up.

One piece of Shoeless Joe testimony that is undeniable, because it appears on the stenographer’s record, has the player’s wife finding out about his involvement when a team-mate entered their hotel room and threw $5,000 on the bed. “She felt awful bad about it,” reveals Jackson, “and cried about it for a while.”

I first read that years ago, and ever since have had the most vivid picture of a scene, imagining Katie Jackson staring at the bundle of money and crying for the loss of the hero she married. All surmise, of course. She was probably crying out of fear he’d be caught – but our imaginations fill the gaps. We instinctively map narratives onto what we see and hear because we want – need – to experience sport as a story.

A melee of co-dependent and antagonistic people will have to decide whether they want Pakistan’s current story to have the scorched-earth ending of a Shakespearean tragedy, where none of the main characters are left standing, or whether a more modern tale of redemption is possible. For me, sport will be better if a way is found for Mohammad Amir to go on to take 600 Test wickets as a symbol of reformation. You don’t have to be soft hearted or “soft on crime” to wish for this. You just have to dream of seeing the second act.

The article can be read here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2010/sep/01/mohammad-amir-marina-hyde

 

 

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Letter to Whatmore by Lawson

This article has been published on cricinfo and can be found here: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/555445.html

Letter to Whatmore

A former coach welcomes the new arrival with a few words of advice

Geoff Lawson

February 28, 2012

Salaam aleikum, Davenell bhai

It has been many years since we first toured with Australia together, back in 1979, when you played so well against India. The wheel has turned almost full circle, just lacking the final shift across the line so artfully drawn by Sir Cyril Radcliffe.

The news of your (eventual) appointment has reached the shores of your former adopted homeland, and I must say I am quite pleased that your name plate will adorn the door of Room 3 at the National Cricket Academy admin block in Lahore. I note that contract negotiations were convoluted, complex and ambivalent, so all seems normal at the PCB.

Hopefully they have cleaned out my cupboards and those back issues of Optometry News, Playboy for Seniors and Golf Digest  have been consigned to the garbage, or at least sent over to the player accommodation.

I am sure the PCB liaison man, Zakir Khan, will have let you know about the security arrangements. I recall clearly his words to me when I discussed my possible engagement as the national coach after the untimely demise of Bob Woolmer: “Yes, Geoff, there will be plenty of security, you just won’t see them.” Comforting indeed, but my biggest fears when living in Lahore did not include IEDs or rogue terror cells but anopheles mosquitoes and dengue fever (which I contracted leaving Pakistan in 1982 and wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy).

I hope you get out to the regional centres like Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Sheikhupura to see some of the local cricket. Some of the grounds are very poor and some very good. I would rate the stadium in Multan as one of the best in Asia – it’s certainly a far cry from the old ground on top of the hill in the middle of town where we played in 1980 and 1982.

You will find that, contrary to widespread belief outside of Pakistan, there are some quicker pitches that certainly favour seam bowling. If you look at the figures for the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy it is usually the pace bowlers who dominate. Occasionally there will be a slow turner; the National Stadium, Karachi, can be either good to bat on or a real haven for the slow bowlers. Generally, up north they produce the stronger, bigger physiques and therefore the faster bowlers.

I was pleasantly surprised by the standards of the better QEA teams. I thought the competition had quality and was robust. It is good when national team-mates go hard at each other in first-class games.

Make sure you have some input into the Pentangular Shield teams’ selection. That competition, between five provinces, is the equivalent of the Sheffield Shield. After the 24 or so first-class and corporate teams play their tournament, the national selectors pick five teams to represent Punjab, Sind (the two big boys, whose players come mostly from Lahore and Karachi), North West Frontier Province (now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Baluchistan, and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which include Rawalpindi and Islamabad. They only play each other once in four-day games, but those matches are hard-fought and of an excellent standard.

The guys who do well here are just about ready for the next step, and you never know in Pakistan when some young genius will pop out of the woodwork. Like Mohammad Amir, who has just arrived back in Lahore from detention in England. You should take the 20-minute drive over to Defence Housing and have a chat with him sooner rather than later, to see what his mental state is. I reckon he would benefit from getting straight back into cricket of some kind, if only at club level.

Also, Dav, be careful in the traffic. I know the roads are mostly crammed with bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws and camel carts that move like treacle through a sieve, but those six lanes leading onto the Liberty Market roundabout remind me of Talladega Nights with Will Ferrell sans beard and driving license. Your experience in Colombo traffic will stand you in good stead, but try to get a driver who speaks passable English and isn’t a former auto-rickshaw operator. I wouldn’t bother getting behind the wheel myself, based on my driving experiences. I was perfect – three drives, three accidents. None were my fault, of course, as I was using the imperial driving code – which among many details mentions something about driving on the left-hand side of the road where possible – not the South Asian one, where the horn is compulsory and “give way” loosely translates as “go as fast as possible to beat the next guy into the gap that would maybe fit a dinky toy while avoiding the over-laden donkey dray”.

I must confess that when I moved into Room 3 at the NCA, most of Bob’s stuff, from cricket books to DVDs, rindless-marmalade jars and tea caddy were still there. I did find it a little disconcerting that the personal items of the much loved and respected coach had not been packed and despatched. I’m sure Ijaz Butt will have cleaned out my detritus immediately, given his statements regarding my usefulness to Pakistan cricket after his brother-in-law anointed him chairman of the board after the 2008 general election. Sad days for all.

With your vast experience in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, the language barrier should be at ankle height. Most of the guys speak English, falling into a range from “better than Australians” to “you get the drift”. Cricket is the universal language, in any case. An outswinger is still gripped the same and a cover drive still gets hit through cover. Urdu and Hindi have many common words, although if they get to speaking Punjabi or Pashto, call for the gardener to translate. He used to run a video shop in the SWAT Valley until the Taliban arrived and issued an edict that no one should have fun.

A huge bonus for you will be that Misbah-ul Haq has taken over the captaincy. He is a bright, well-educated man, who understands the game exceptionally well. When in doubt, ask Misbah who should be in the team and he will give you players who aren’t someone’s second cousin’s brother’s uncle but rather are the most skilled for that position. He is a winner and plays no favourites, and will be an excellent sounding board for whatever strategy you feel will work best with the team. He sets a perfect example in work ethic and discipline, and it does make a difference when the senior players are doing all the right things, especially in their culture of age and respect going hand in hand.

Dav, I must issue a note of warning about dealing with the media in Pakistan, especially if you play against India and finish second – although that might never happen in the near future, given the political machinations at the highest level. Speak to Immie on this point: the Lion of Lahore may be the only person in Pakistan who can make it happen; now if only we could get Sachin to stand for the Lok Sabha, we could create cricket detente.

If the local journos want to be disrespectful and force their pre-conceived agendas on you, go right ahead and let them, unless you want several thousand views on Youtube. My son has installed the clip of me walking out of a press conference as my screen saver, so if I want to remind myself of how not to suck up to reporters I just hit Control F6 and amuse myself for three minutes.

But have no fear, Dav, of the man in the street. The press may have their private or provincial agendas, but I found the common man to be most friendly and hospitable. Even when we lost the occasional match, their approach to me was civil and respectful. Not an effigy in sight, burning or whole. They appreciated that a foreigner was in their country to help, to do his best and, win, lose or draw, to show respect for the nation and the culture.

I learned a bit of the lingo and stayed off the booze.  I recommend doing at least one of those.

Stay away from politicians, public meetings, police stations or military establishments. If taking the team to the Army School of Physical Training in Abbottabad, stay clear of buildings with just a few too many antennae sticking out of the chimney, and keep your head down if you hear helicopters approaching.

That’s about it, mate. These guys can play some wonderful cricket, and I’m sure they will listen and learn and benefit from your enormous knowledge of the game. I look forward to visiting you at Gaddafi Stadium when Australia return to play a Test there. When that happens, cricket really will be the winner.

All the best

Sahib Henry

Geoff Lawson played 46 Test matches for Australia, and has coached NSW and Pakistan. He now commentates on the game for ABC Radio

Shikwa-e-Awami

payaam aaye hain un sathi-e-aasi ke liay
kia ilzaam lagaain bakht ki khami ke liay

kesa yar-e-wafaa chuna tha ghulami k liay
ik lamha bhi na socha, shehr-e-awami k liay

zindagi k mailay may, na tha koi madd-e-muqabil,
kyon pasti ko chuna, maqaam-e-sarfrazi ke liay

apno ki mohabbat kia shaiy hai, wuqt na jani tum ne,
jin ko dhoka dia tha, aaj rotay hain tumharay liay

ab basar karni hay yeh kaali raat akelay hi tum ne,
tulu-e-aftab ki umeed bhi na bachi ab nijaat k liay

sabaq kia seekha iss qissa-e-budnami may, yawar?
kabhi apnon ko na dagha dena, ristha-e-aarzi k liay.