It is over, finally. One of the longest cricket tours in living memory, and certainly the most eventful and controversial, ended with a whimper on Wednesday as England comprehensively defeated Pakistan in the final one-day match to win the series 3-2. Who would have thought the tour would have turned out the way it did when Pakistan left for England almost three months ago. Sadly for cricket, what began with such promise has ended on a very sour note.
It seems like a lifetime ago when the tour started with high hopes at the end of June. This was to be Pakistan's glorious summer of cricket; the summer when Pakistan cricket was to find a home away from home in England and Wales. Cricket fans in the UK, those who support Pakistan and those who do not, were all unanimous in their welcome to Pakistan's cornered tigers. There was palpable excitement at the prospect of Pakistan's exciting but inexperienced youngsters taking on the might of Australia and England.
The start of the cricket contests lived up to expectations; Pakistan convincingly avenged their World Twenty20 semi-final loss to Australia with two comprehensive victories in the shortest format of the game in July. There followed some great off-field drama at Lord's, as Pakistan lost the first Test to Australia and, Shahid Afridi, their captain, announced his retirement from Test cricket. Little did we know there was to be more drama at a Lord's Test much later in the summer.
In fact, how innocent and trivial Afridi's dramatic exit seems now, in comparison to some of the subsequent off-field shenanigans involving his successor as Test captain. Despite Afridi's exit, Pakistan's on-field cricket remained electric; 15 years of history were over-turned as a young and very inexperienced team finally defeated Australia in a Test and thus levelled the series. The brilliance on display from the young Pakistanis, in particular from Mohammad Aamer who was Pakistan's man of the match in the historic Leeds victory, wowed cricket fans of all stripes and colours.
Aamer was again the man of the match as Pakistan engineered an improbable Test win against the powerful England team at The Oval. Coming after two huge defeats to England, this win was as unexpected as it was impressive. All of that, however, even the dramatic comeback last week in the one-day international (ODI) series to level it 2-2, pales in comparison with the drama during the Lord's Test against England. The spot-fixing allegations and the damning videos shamed Pakistan cricket, and in particular, three of their best players: Salman Butt, the captain, and Mohammad Asif and Aamer, the pace bowlers.
It is ironic how Pakistan's best and worst moments of the summer were mostly all engineered by these three players, all of them currently suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and whose cricketing futures are now at best uncertain. The case of Aamer is particularly poignant as he was the key character in most of the dramas this summer. It took Hansie Cronje, the disgraced South Africa captain, a decade to attain and then fall from such heights. Aamer has achieved all that in the course of just one summer. Still only 18, this is perhaps the quickest rise to fame and then fall from grace in modern cricketing history.
The list of accolades earned by Aamer and his achievements in a very short career so far is impressive even by teenage prodigy standards. The youngest bowler in 130 years of Test history to capture 50 Test wickets. The youngest bowler ever to take a five wicket haul at Lord's and thus have his name carved in perpetuity on the hallowed Lord's Honours Board. A wicket in his very first over in Test cricket and also in his very first over in T20 cricket, against Sri Lanka and England respectively. The list goes on.
Aamer came to England with the reputation of already being an excellent world-class ODI and T20 bowler. He routinely bowled during the final overs in the shorter forms of the game, when the pressure is on and generally, only the most experienced and accomplished campaigners are given the ball. This summer established Aamer's Test credentials too. His 30 Test wickets in six Tests, and at an average of just 19.80, is the best return by a left-arm fast bowler in any English Test summer. It is also the biggest haul for any teenager in an English season. His performances won him man of the match awards in two Tests, the only two Tests won by Pakistan this summer.
Even Waqar Younis and Sachin Tendulkar, two legends of the game who both started as teenage prodigies, had not achieved at 18 a fraction of what Aamer has already earned. He was a certainty to be the ICC's Emerging Player of the Year and genuine greatness beckoned. His actions at Lord's, the no-ball and the alleged spot-fixing, thus threaten to ruin one of the most promising careers of recent years.
This momentous summer then was in so many ways Mohammad Aamer's summer. He was both the hero and the villain, and someone who for better and mostly for worse, will be this summer's most abiding memory. His talent, his natural ability and his mature cricketing brain provided some of the more memorable cricketing moments. His foolishness provided us with the image that will, sadly, remain this summer's lasting legacy. Cricket followers are unanimous in that both Butt and Asif, if found guilty, deserve life bans from the game. If guilty, they would have dishonoured their country and this great game, and let down the millions of cricket followers around the world.
Aamer's case is different though; was he coerced? Was he merely following the "captain's instructions"? Was he even aware of the "fixing" angle? All questions which must be considered before any sentence is carried out. In the meantime, let's hope that the iconic image of Aamer over-stepping the crease while bowling at the Lord's Test under the watchful gaze of Salman Butt is not the last recollection we have of him as a cricketer.
Yasser Alvi is a cricket writer at PakPassion.net firstname.lastname@example.org