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Amir faces up to a career in ruins

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David Bond | 12:29 UK time, Monday, 7 February 2011

Mohammad Amir describes the last six months as the worst time in his life. At the tender age of 18 that is hardly surprising.

But whatever people think about what he has done, there has to be a measure of sympathy for the bowler who, until Saturday's decision by the ICC to ban him for five years, was Pakistan's great hope.

I interviewed him in his hotel room in Doha on Sunday, almost 24 hours after the anti-corruption tribunal had delivered its damning determination.

He had spent the whole day there, lying in bed, trying to come to terms with what had happened.

When we meet, the bed is still unmade and the clothes he wore to the Qatar Financial Centre court the day before are hanging over the back of a chair. He fiddles with a mobile phone while we set up. In every sense it is a typical teenager's scene.

Except this is no ordinary teenager. And as if to serve a reminder of that, on the desk, in a see through plastic bag, is a copy of the local Qatar newspaper. The headline on the story is: "ICC BANS PAKISTAN THREE" and there is Amir's face, staring out from the front page alongside his two team mates Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif.

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For a fast bowler, he is not as tall as you might imagine and slightly built. In the flesh he looks so very young and vulnerable. And he looks shell shocked.

When we first meet and shake hands he doesn't get up to greet me. And as he moves from the bed to a chair for the interview he avoids all eye contact, just staring distantly into space.

He answers my questions in Urdu but it is obvious he speaks and understands English perfectly well. His lawyer Shahid Karim translates and for much of the interview he keeps his eyes down.

You can watch the full interview and judge for yourself by clicking the video above. But to me his devastation at the ban is clear. It may, of course, all be an act to try and win support and help his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but I am not convinced. And even now I doubt he truly understands what is happening to him.

He explains how cricket is his life and how he gave up his education to play the game. Without it he asks how will he support his family back in Pakistan. He insists, with the grace of God, he will be back but if his appeal fails, for a fast bowler five years out it will be hard to come back from. Like a bad spell he will simply have to work his way through it. Some bad spell.

His lawyer made it a clear condition of the interview that I was unable to ask any questions about the ICC decision or the separate criminal case in the UK. I was restricted to questions about his reaction to the decision and he becomes uncomfortable when I ask him about his relationship with Butt and Asif now.

"I don't want to talk about this," he says.

When we finish the interview he does seem to relax and manages a few smiles. I ask him about his family (he has six brothers) and when he is travelling home. He and his lawyer ask me about the ICC press conference earlier on Sunday.

He insists he will return to the UK on 17 March for a court hearing relating to his separate criminal case.

Many in the cricketing world believe Amir deserved more lenient treatment from the ICC because of his youth and inexperience and, perhaps, because of his rare cricketing talent. Tempting though it would be to do this, the tribunal could not consider favourable treatment just because he is the best bowler to come out of Pakistan for years.

They could only consider his age and give him the benefit of the doubt that he got himself caught up with people he shouldn't have done.

The less sympathetic will argue he deserves no leniency whatsoever and that the only way to stamp out corruption is to use Amir as the ultimate deterrent and sacrifice his talent on the altar of the game's greater good.

I am not sure about that. As I asked yesterday, is bowling two no balls really worth a lifetime ban? The tribunal clearly didn't think so.

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