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Cricket: Amir longs for only affection

Mohammad Amir was cricket's wonder kid interrupted. Photo / AP
Mohammad Amir was cricket's wonder kid interrupted. Photo / AP

Convicted spot-fixer Mohammad Amir is anticipating a warm welcome from New Zealand cricket fans if he makes his international comeback here this month.

The 23-year-old, jailed and banned for taking bribes in 2010, was yesterday named in Pakistan's squad to tour New Zealand but has yet to secure a visa.

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"I expect love and affection from New Zealand fans," Amir said. "They love the game and are very caring, so I don't expect any harsh reaction."

The left-arm pace bowler is preparing for his first international tour since serving a five-year cricket ban and three-month jail term for taking bribes to deliver deliberate no-balls against England in a 2010 test at Lord's.

The International Cricket Council has approved Amir's return and New Zealand Cricket will not stand in his way, although he still needs a character reference to support his visa application to Immigration New Zealand.

NZC are yet to be approached by Amir or the Pakistan Cricket Board, and INZ's offices are closed until Tuesday.

Pakistan will play three Twenty20s and three one-day internationals, starting January 15 in Auckland.

"I have very good memories of New Zealand when I toured there in 2009," Amir recalled. "I had great fun and we drew the series."

Inevitably, the tension might need to be broken when he takes the field. It might require some dag to bellow "no ball" with his approach to the bowling crease or Brendon McCullum to break the barriers with a statesman-like handshake, although given the New Zealand captain's stance against match-fixing in Chris Cairns' perjury trial last year, such a move might appear disingenuous.

Selected as a 17-year-old against Sri Lanka in 2009, Amir was the youngest player to take 50 test wickets, scything through England using conventional and reverse swing. He was the man of that tainted series before evidence of his crime emerged.

NZC chief executive David White believes Amir deserves a second chance.

"It was a unique situation, because, at 18, he was very young. But he's been through the education programme and he's remorseful.

"He was put in a difficult situation, he admitted guilt immediately and has served his ban.

"We had some tentative discussions [with Immigration New Zealand] before Christmas about our position [if this happened]. We haven't heard from the PCB though."

White did not expect security to be bolstered with Amir's presence.

"Every team travels with a security person. We haven't spoken to anyone about that in detail because he just got named. We don't foresee any problems with him being here."

In an interview with news agency AFP, Amir said he was confident most fans were on his side.

"I am sure fans will adore me," he said. "But even if there are taunts and harsh remarks, I am ready for that and will do my best to reply to them with love and by taking wickets."

Amir's own team-mates have exercised caution bordering on disdain with his presence. Captain Azhar Ali threatened to resign and, with all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez, considered opting out of a 26-man conditioning camp in Lahore in protest. Each squad member is understood to have since signed a bond guaranteeing no quibbles with Amir's selection.

Since returning from his ban, Amir has excelled in domestic first-class cricket (16 wickets at 14.87 in four matches) and the Bangladesh Premier League (14 wickets at 12.64 in nine matches). As chief selector Haroon Rasheed admitted: "We are not undermining other players ... but there is always a difference between normal and extraordinary players."

The selectors also recalled the rehabilitating Umar Gul.

- Herald on Sunday

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