Rawalpindi, Pakistan: Former Pakistan pace prodigy Mohammad Aamer Tuesday urged young players to be careful of the company they kept to avoid "destroying" their lives, as he prepared to make his return from a spot-fixing ban.
The 22-year-old was due to begin his first game back in domestic cricket on Monday but the first two days in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, not far from Islamabad, were cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch. Aamer was one of three Pakistanis banned from all cricket for at least five years for arranging no-balls to order in a Test against England at Lord's in 2010.
He urged young players to learn from his mistakes and concentrate on the game. "If you want to achieve something in life you need to be very focused in your goals," he told AFP between fielding drills at the army cricket ground in Rawalpindi. "In these five years I've learnt you need to make good friends in life, have good company, don't destroy your life." Aamer, fellow quick bowler Mohammmed Asif and then Pakistan captain Salman Butt were jailed in Britain over the spot-fixing scandal in 2011.
Aamer's ban was originally due to expire on September 2, but the International Cricket Council used discretionary powers to allow him to return to domestic cricket early, citing his early admission of guilt and cooperation with anti-corruption authorities. Looking more muscular than when he last played competitively, Aamer said he had been working hard on his fitness and had not lost any of the zest that saw him become the youngest bowler, at just 18, to take 50 Test wickets.
"I haven't played competitive cricket so far -- when you play in the rhythm of a match you know what speeds you're bowling at when you're at a good ground wearing spikes," he said. "I feel in my practice that my pace hasn't gone down, it's going to be the same." - 'Don't take shortcuts' - Aamer's comeback match for the Karachi-based Omar Associates team against the Army in Pakistan's Grade-II cricket league -- one rung below first-class -- was washed out for the second consecutive day on Tuesday following torrential rainfall last week. But he said he was hopeful of getting match practice on Wednesday, with the next game due to start in Rawalpindi on Friday, as he works on his goal of eventually returning to the national team.
With Pakistan's bowling attack finally appearing to click in a key World Cup victory over South Africa at the weekend, Aamer's swift return to the side is far from assured. But he heaped praise on his former teammates, terming their performance "outstanding" and congratulating the team for its "fighting spirit". Aamer singled out South Africa's Dale Steyn and Australia's Mitchell Starc, who has so far taken 12 wickets at an average of 10 during the World Cup, as his top bowlers at the moment. He is mindful too that thanks to the influence of Twenty20 cricket, tactics have moved on in his absence and he acknowledged he will need to adapt his game to emulate Steyn and Starc.
The once-deadly yorker is no longer the killer weapon it once was, with batsmen like South Africa's AB de Villiers willing to attack the delivery. "Yorkers are generally best in the death situation, but perhaps not for someone like AB de Villiers," Aamer said.
"But not everyone is an AB who can reverse sweep a yorker! It all depends on the situation whether you should be bowling yorkers or slow bouncers." His return has been eagerly awaited by most fans in cricket-mad Pakistan, though some notable critics, including former captain Rameez Raja, have argued he should not be given a second chance in the sport. Aamer said he would do his best to prove his detractors wrong and show he had turned over a new leaf.
"I am trying my best and I did video messages with the ICC aimed at youngsters -- don't take shortcuts, be focused on your goals," he said. "I would not wish the five years I went through on my worst enemies. Work hard with good intentions and leave the rest to Allah, at the end of the day Allah will respect that."