Thursday, January 6, 2011

Amir optimistic ahead of hearing

As the Doha hearing into the spot-fixing case against three Pakistani players finally got underway on Thursday, Mohammad Amir, the youngest, most potent symbol of the trio expressed cautious optimism about the outcome of a hearing that could effectively end his career.

Along with Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, Amir was charged by the ICC for allegedly bowling pre-planned deliberate no-balls in the Lord's Test against England in August last year. The charges were the result of a sting operation by the English tabloid News of the World and the ICC acted immediately, suspending the three from international cricket.

As time has passed, much attention has fallen on Amir, who until then had swiftly taken his place among the brightest, most charismatic young talents in the game; until the scandal emerged, Amir was favourite to win the ICC's emerging player of the year award having just become the youngest bowler to complete 50 Test wickets.

The last few months, including a failed appeal to lift his provisional suspension, have been difficult, however. His future, as he admitted, is now on the line. "Those early days were good for me and these last few months have been tough," Amir told ESPNcricinfo before leaving for the hearing.

"This is a question of my career and I've been through some tough days. I've overcome them and I will hopefully overcome more in the future. We've prepared well for the case and put in our effort."

Both Amir and his lawyer Shahid Karim remain confident that their preparations are complete. Much has been made of Amir's youth and the ensuing leeway in any sanctions he may receive if found guilty because of that. Indications suggest that the defence may play on his unblemished disciplinary track record and his 18 years.

"If you look at the ICC code there could be some advantage with that," Karim said. "He is very important to the future of Pakistan and the response we have gotten from people so far, I am very hopeful. You can call our case strong or whatever but I am hopeful."

The players are staying in separate hotels with their lawyers and speculation has grown in recent weeks over the potential interplay between the three as the hearings begin. A leaked report of the testimony of Waqar Younis, the Pakistan coach, recently suggested that Amir's no-ball was bowled at the behest of Butt, who was captain at the time. The suggestion that he acted under duress might gain importance in Amir's defence, though it is understood that so far, the issue has not cropped up. Karim was understandably unwilling to expand.

"I cannot say much about this right now but we will see in the case how we use that. There are many perspectives which we feel are our in our favour and we will use that to our advantage."

Amir was the first to arrive at the Qatar Financial Centre civil and commercial courts, well before the scheduled 9.30am start. He was followed by Asif and his lawyer Alex Cameron though in keeping with Asif's approach throughout, they didn't speak to the media.

Apart from a couple of media appearances unrelated to the case, Asif has maintained a steady silence, possibly at the behest of advice from his British-based defence. He was the only one of the three who didn't appeal against the provisional suspension. Butt was the last to arrive with his legal team and though he has been the most voluble in his defence over the last few months, he also refused to speak.

The members of the independent tribunal, headed by Michael Beloff QC, were the first to arrive. "I cannot comment very much on it because we haven't even started the hearings," Sharad Rao, one of the members, said. Asked about the impact of the hearing on the future of the game, he said, "The future of cricket is good because that is what the whole exercise is about, so that it should be very clean game that we can rely on the results."

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