Auckland: Mohammad Amir's return to international cricket after a five-year gap was not a happy one as the controversial Pakistan pacer was booed by the crowd during the first Twenty20 International (T20I) against New Zealand here on Friday.
The 23-year-old was making his first appearance for Pakistan since returning from a five-year ban for being implicated in a spot-fixing scandal in 2010. The left-arm pacer from Gujar Khan, Pakistan, opened the bowling and claimed the wicket of lower-order batsman Matt Henry, returning figures of 1/31 from his four overs.
Mohammad Amir of Pakistan bowls during the second T20 match between New Zealand and Pakistan at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday. Pic/AFP
Amir was at the centre of a spot-fixing controversy in August 2010 when he was convicted for bowling deliberate no-balls during a Test match against England at Lord's. He was subsequently jailed for three months in November 2011 along with two other Pakistan players Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif.
His suspension originally covered all forms of the game but he was cleared to play domestic cricket in Pakistan in January 2015.
Amir, however, is facing several restrictions during the current tour. He is not allowed to leave his hotel and meet anyone without the prior permission of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
Batting first, Pakistan posted a total of 171/8 at the Eden Park, and then dismissed the Kiwis for 155 runs.
The 23-year-old left-arm pacer was making his first appearance for Pakistan since returning from a five-year ban and jail time for being implicated in a spot-fixing scandal in 2010.
Pakistan defeated the hosts by 16 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series, with Mohammad Hafeez scoring 61 as they reached 171 for eight. Shahid Afridi's astute captaincy coupled with an all-round effort, helped Pakistan overcome New Zealand's challenge.
Amir opened the bowling, taking 1-31 from four overs, but did not bat.
Back home however, the Pakistan cricket fraternity was relieved to see Amir make a comeback.
"The crowds and people in New Zealand are very hospitable and friendly and they understand cricket. I was not expecting them to react to Aamir's comeback today," wicketkeeper-batsman Kamran Akmal said.
Amir was also welcomed by his former teammates Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif who served five-year bans and varying jail time for involvement in the spot-fixing scandal that broke out in the aftermath of the Lord's Test in 2010.
"Whatever happened on that tour to England is now history but we have all learnt a lot from it. We learnt that one should never let your people, team and supporters down nor try to spoil an otherwise beautiful sport," Butt said.
Asif said it is never easy for any pace bowler to make a comeback to international cricket after such a long time. "I thought Amir handled the pressure well and bowled well despite the spotlight on him," Asif said.
Pakistan's former fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar said he was happy to see the young Aamir given a second chance. "In the end we must keep in mind these three have served their time and they are repentant and changed people now. Amir's comeback to the team will only benefit Pakistan cricket," Akhtar said.
Former Test player Mohammad Yousuf said Amir deserved a chance to wear the Pakistan shirt again. "I am hopeful he has learnt his lesson and will now try to win back the confidence of everyone. He did well today and I think in a couple of matches he will be back to his bowling prowess," the former captain said.
Pakistan manager Intikhab Alam said the victory over New Zealand lifted the spirits of the players. "The good thing is that Aamir is positive, confident and making everyone put in an effort to gel with the other players. He is doing well."