MOHAMMAD AMIR was greeted with warm applause on his return to first-class cricket in England this week.
The Pakistan pace bowler received a generous hand in the three-day match against Somerset at Taunton.
I have no problem with Amir being greeted with warm applause; you would not want the lad booed after what happened six years ago, when he deliberately bowled no-balls during the Lord’s Test and was convicted of spot-fixing and sent to jail.
But I do not subscribe to the view that he should be playing professionally again, or delight in the fact that his presence will add to the quality of the upcoming four-Test series against England.
Apologists for Amir – and there are many of them, not least in the media – point to the fact that he was only 18 at the time of the spot-fixing scandal in 2010.
They claim, quite rightly, that he was easily led by his captain, Salman Butt, who was also jailed for his part in the affair along with pace bowler Mohammad Asif.
Everyone makes mistakes, and it is fair to say that there was significant mitigation.
But no player is bigger than the game – and the game, as Brian Close always used to say, must come first.
Vic Marks, one of Close’s former team-mates at Somerset, is among those who welcomes Amir’s return.
“It is very good news for the game that Amir is back in the fold,” he wrote, “although one or two of England’s batsmen may take a different view before the series is out.
“He prompts memories of Wasim Akram as he scuttles through the crease, bowling over and around the wicket with equal facility.”
Amir is undoubtedly a talented performer, someone who indeed conjures comparison with fellow countryman Akram.
But that, in my view, is by-the-by.
If we are serious about stamping out spot-fixing, and the even worse offence of match-fixing, then the attitude must be zero tolerance.
It matters not whether the offender is 18 at the time and easily led, or 38 years old and vastly experienced.
Because, for every impressionable Amir back in 2010, there is another impressionable youngster just around the corner, someone to whom cricket must send out a clear message.
The most important consideration is not the individual, but the impression created by taking an attitude of non-zero tolerance.
Cricket is basically saying to any youngster that they could be allowed back after they have served their time, and it is paying lip-service to removing corruption.
I myself have sympathy for Amir – why, I might even have done the same thing in his shoes under pressure from a senior –but some offences are so serious that they should automatically disqualify you from that career.
If you are a teacher, for instance, and you manipulate exam results, you should not be allowed to teach again.
If you are a chef and you are found guilty of deliberately using out-of-date ingredients that cause food poisoning, you should not be allowed to be a chef any more.
Again, surely the most important thing in this case is not the individual, but the game.
And the game is wretchedly served by what happened six years ago – no matter how talented the player or the mitigating circumstances.