Dhaka - Mohammad Amir's last appearance on
a cricket pitch outside his native Pakistan led to a six-month sentence in a
British prison for corruption.
Five years on, the paceman was the headline
act in the opening match as Bangladesh's Twenty20 league staged its own
comeback after a fixing scandal.
But as Amir and the Bangladesh Premier
League look to turn over a new leaf, one of cricket's most respected figures,
Kumar Sangakkara, says the game could "die" if spectators are not
convinced matches are clean.
Amir, playing for the Chittagong Vikings
against the Rangpur Riders, took four for 30 on Sunday, delighted to be
competing once more against stars such as Pakistan's Test skipper Misbah ul-Haq
whom he bowled with a perfect yorker at Dhaka's national stadium.
Amir, now 23, was jailed in 2011 after
admitting bowling no balls the previous summer against England at Lord's in
exchange for cash.
His captain Salman Butt and fellow bowler
Mohammad Asif were jailed for similar offences.
Their hopes of returning for Pakistan look
bleak, given they are in the autumn of their careers.
But Amir, who has been playing Pakistan
domestic cricket since earlier this year, told AFP recently he saw the BPL as
"the first step towards reviving my international career" as he eyes
next year's World T20 in India.
Although Amir has refused to talk to the
media in Bangladesh, he said before his departure from Pakistan that he was
"really thankful to the team for choosing me and I will try my best to
give them my 100 percent."
His comeback remains controversial, with
Pakistan batsman Mohammad Hafeez refusing to sign for the Vikings with Amir in
As Amir struggles to rebuild trust, the BPL
faces a similar challenge after its 2013 edition was blighted by a scandal
involving players and a team owner.
Former Bangladesh captain Mohammad
Ashraful, New Zealander Lou Vincent and Sri Lankan Kaushal Lokuarachchi were
handed lengthy bans.
And Shihab Jishan Chowdhury was also
convicted of trying to fix the outcome of a match involving his Dhaka
An embarrassed Bangladesh Cricket Board
cancelled last year's edition but now believes its house is in order.
Chief executive Nizamuddin Chowdhury said
the BCB always had "zero tolerance" of corruption but felt compelled
to do more after 2013.
It now has its own anti-corruption unit and
runs an extensive education programme for players which includes addresses by
"A lot of things happened because of a
lack of education, players not being aware of the consequences, not only for
themselves but for the nation as a whole," Chowdury said.
Sayeed Uzzaman, the journalist who broke
the scandal, said the BCB deserved praise for bringing crooks to justice but
feared the game remained vulnerable.
"The players are soft targets,"
said Uzzaman, of Dhaka's Kaler Kantho daily.
"The bookies offer them a thousand
times more (than they are paid by their teams)."
While Amir is back playing in front of
packed crowds, Ashraful keeps fit with nets in his backyard, still dreaming of
an eventual international recall.
Neighbours are happy to bowl at the
31-year-old who set the record for the youngest player to hit a Test century
but Ashraful is full of regrets.
"I've lost almost everything I worked
for ... I hope young cricketers will look at me and learn a lesson," the
one-time golden boy said.
The local underworld was thought to have
got its hooks into Ashraful long before he was caught and made a tearful
Now he urges players against falling into
the same trap.
"My advice to any young cricketer
would be say, very clearly, no."
His view is echoed by Sangakkara, Sri
Lanka's former captain who recently retired from international cricket.
"It's very simple advice that I have
for anyone, it's basically just say no and once you've said no you report every
single approach," he said while training for his BPL team, the Dhaka
"It's the responsibility of players as
well to ensure the game stays clean.
"Cricket, or any sport for that
matter, has to uphold the public trust because if the crowds don't come to
watch, if they feel cheated, cricket will die."
Gambling is illegal in Bangladesh but, as
in most of South Asia, bookmakers routinely operate from backstreets - often
controlled by crime syndicates.
Every country has its tale of fallen
heroes, including South Africa whose late captain Hansie Cronje was exposed as
in the pay of bookies.
The cash-rich Indian Premier League was hit
by a fixing scandal involving the son-in-law of the then head of the board in
While authorities say the punishments of
players such as Amir and Ashraful have been a deterrent, few believe the
corruption beast has been slain.
Only last week, Pakistan coach Waqar Younis
had to insist a defeat against England in an ODI was not fixed after claims the
match was under investigation by the International Cricket Council's
Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU).
In a recent in-house interview, the ACU's
head acknowledged fixing could never be wiped out.
"I think the frank answer has to be
never totally and absolutely eradicated," said Ronnie Flanagan.