It is restful, tragedy, because one knows that there is no more lousy hope left. You know you’re caught, caught at last like a rat with all the world on its back. And the only thing left to do is shout — not moan, or complain, but yell out at the top of your voice whatever it was you had to say. What you’ve never said before. What perhaps you don’t even know till now. – Jean Anouilh
Tragedies are painful to bear. They hit with a force so instantaneous and ferocious that enduring them becomes a strenuous battle. A coherent mix of self-denial, shredded emotions and an essence of failure instills in you and it takes time for you to absorb all of it till the reality sinks in eventually. I have been trying to bring myself to write about it but I just lose the gist of all that has been coalescing with my thought processes. Maybe, it’s my inability to deal with a loss of something dear; or perhaps the interminable suffering that comes with it.
One can term the story of Mohammad Amir as The calamity of cricket or anything one could relate his catastrophic narrative with; I know it would not suffice. Even all the Shakespearean tragedies feel mellow somehow when I compare them with his. And some of them even have a second coming. But at the end of the day, that is mostly fiction and his is an actuality. However, I can’t help but wish the truth that circumscribes all this is stranger than the reality which has surfaced. The inscription on his cricket epitaph has potentially been done, ultimately terminating an embracing attachment on personal level.
So what precisely is it that makes a person like me take him with such reverence?
His prodigious yet scarcely believable life story? He being a product of a village unknown to the world, the life threatening dengue fever when he was 15 and having glucose drips 24 hours a day, the cricket upbringing under local coaches and the rest that’s related to him coming into the international scene. For most people it maybe, but for me, it was just a filling for the backdrop of what was to be a scintillating affiliation for couple of cricket seasons. Maybe, a simple Wikipedia entry of him may help to complete the thorough picture. It was the Wasim Akram analogy, yes.
If the selection of Amir by Wasim in 2007 for the England U-19 tour was anything to go by, watching him in the 2009 T20 World Cup was the point where he became a subject of genuine interest. In all honesty, it was this reverse swing spell in Dunedin, late 2009, that cast the demeanor of permanence in him. Moving it both ways and with remarkable precision, he had already learnt to make the old ball talk like a gnarled old pro, along with a shrewd control over the new one. Even the old masters of reverse swing would have been proud of it. It was mesmerizing to watch and there was a widespread belief already that the cricket world has the next great southpaw after Wasim, in the making. He had been giving hints of what he had to offer, be it the 2009 T20 World Cup in England or the test series against Sri Lanka, but this one was special. It was simply Wasim-like. This did it for me.
MCG was set alight the very next month with a five-for and made the Aussies notice him. He was easily the lone positive of a shambolic Pakistan tour down under. The T20 World Cup in West Indies and Asia Cup followed, and he was constantly getting polished and rising up the ratings scale.
Then came the English summer, which was tipped as the most significant in Pakistani cricket history. With multiple series lined up against two very good sides, he couldn’t have asked for a more grand stage to play on. It started at Edgbaston in the T20 and I was there to watch the kid. He spearheaded the attack in presence of Akhtar and Gul, and we knew we had the best fast bowling line up in the world, and it sure was. Watching him knock those stumps and sending the Aussies back was an absolute treat. They were knocked off the perch with a series sweep 2-0. It was sweet mayhem.
And now it was time for the real examination of his monumental cricketing talent – white clothes, red duke cherry, overcast English summer and a world class opposition. He didn’t take long to make waves, sending one Exocet after another, demolishing the Aussies at Headingley with such command that they were on their knees and every single wicket of his still remains a treasured memory. Who would forget the consecutive cleaning up of Smith and Johnson? It was a relentless display of an outrageous and overwhelming talent. It was sheer raw flair and natural brilliance. Pakistan won a test match after 15 years against Australia and he was the fulcrum of that victory. And I was in the stands seeing him speak in the post-match ceremony. At my cricket club, folks of all ages were talking about his genius; it was soothing and it all felt like a perfect script for the cricket summer.
By experience and numbers in years and matches, he was dominating, outwitting and seducing men into batting blunders who were years and, in some cases, decades senior to him. It felt he was doing poetry with that ball so masterfully that it would move in whichever direction where he wanted it to. His intimidation of the opposition was so brutally awe-striking that you could be sure it was a divine wonder to behold. It was so visible that the world was his oyster. He had lit up a cricket summer in one hemisphere of the planet few months back and he was doing it in an even better way in the other just a few months later. His name was being inked in the record books and was anticipated to write them for years to come. He was blowing opposition batting line ups, be it The Oval or Lord’s, with merciless zest. On track to become the poster boy of cricket world and of many a bedroom walls, he had the world at his feet.
Then disaster struck at the very home of cricket. Amidst a surreal spell of fast bowling in which he sliced and diced the English top order in a manner rarely seen in modern day cricket, he committed a cardinal sin which was to have severe repercussions later on, ones which would never make him perform on any cricketing platform practically. Maybe I will fail to address what and why he committed the dreadful career suicide by overstepping that white line though the world may talk forever what it was. Whether it was the fallacy of a few thousand quids casting the devilish spell of whose ramifications his fledgling head couldn’t decipher, only Amir knows. Or was it the moronic grooming of the dirty bastard Salman Butt and the serial offender Asif under both of whom he was during those damned days and horribly became a prey of, every citation seems secondary. The mind goes numb when he and his aura are envisaged. He came across as a harmless soul bent only to perform at his best in those flannels. Like a young folklore hero destined to achieve greatness and creating a unparalleled legacy. And somehow everything fell apart.
That Saturday of August 28 will forever haunt me. It just has too much of pain buried in it. Apart from the day being a devastating one for Pakistan cricket performance-wise, the night theoretically broke the psychedelic bond between him and me, the music of another coming of Wasim Akram died for me, and my revived hallucinogenic passion for the game took a massive hammering. Practically, all this culminated on February 5th, 2011. It signaled the heartbreak for an intimate love affair of the sincerest form which had connections on a spiritual level and subsequently reopened cracks which will bleed perpetually.
Amir, I will be honest with you. I have tried a lot in the last 5 months or so of giving my mind the maximum luxury of digression off you, conjuring countless thoughts related to the abundance of cricketing talent Pakistan has and that there won’t ever be a stoppage of world class fast bowlers production but here my mind ceases to imagine; and that is when I make miserable attempts that there may be another Amir waiting in the ranks. No, it is just not practically possible. I know it; those of us who felt you cast those holy essences know it. You were special to the world for what you were. It may get over and forget you, and never allow you a go at redemption, but buddy, you will remain dear to me. As dear as anything in cricket I could relate to. Thanks for giving the immortal memories and for making me and millions relive Wasim.
So long, champ.
Article by Masuud Qazi