Former England captain Michael Atherton has urged leniency for Pakistan’s Mohammad Aamer in the fixing scandal that has shaken world cricket because the teenager was in “the grip of evil”.
Aamer, fellow seamer Mohammad Asif and Test captain Salman Butt have all been charged and provisionally suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) after a report in last Sunday’s News of the World alleged that they had conspired to deliberately bowl no-balls in last week’s fourth Test at Lord’s.
England won that match by an innings and 225 runs — Pakistan’s heaviest ever Test defeat — and with it the series 3-1.
Aamer, 18, Asif, 27, and Butt, 25, were questioned by police about the claims on Friday but were released without charge, their lawyer said. They have denied any wrongdoing.
Left-arm seamer Aamer’s figures of six wickets for 84 runs at Lord’s were his best in Test cricket.
Atherton, now a journalist and broadcaster, writing in this Sunday’s News of the World, recalled how Nasser Hussain, also an ex-England skipper, had summed up the mood at Lord’s last Sunday.
“Nasser Hussain, who I once saw walking around the team hotel in Sri Lanka in the early hours of the morning before a Test match unable to sleep, so worried was he about his form, spoke for us all when he said, ‘Please don’t let it be the kid’.”
Atherton added: “The ‘kid’ in question was Mohammad Aamer, the young, good-looking and prodigiously-talented Pakistan bowler who had blown England away on the second morning at Lord’s with a mesmeric spell of left-arm bowling and who now, we had been told, had overstepped the front line twice for a few dollars more.”
Former opening batsman Atherton said he felt “angry” because underperforming for money is the worst crime any sportsman can commit.
“It is worse than doping, because the fixer is deliberately trying to underperform, so deceiving the paying public.”
Atherton suggested Aamer had been manipulated by the alleged fixer and that he was a “young man in the grip of evil”.
But he feared the ICC, accused of weakness over previous ‘fixing’ scandals would be “unlikely to show any clemency now”.
However, while agreeing there could be no way back for Butt or Asif if they were found guilty, Atherton said: “I hope the authorities can find a way to give Aamer a second chance. He is a victim in this episode.
“This is not necessarily arbitrary or unfair, simply a realisation that there are mitigating circumstances for an 18-year old…It would be grossly unfair to ban a kid for life for overstepping the line twice.”