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Amir and Valencia seize sport's second chances

JUNE 20 ― If you believe that people deserve a second chance in life, the sporting arena is a great place to find them. And this weekend there were a couple of heart-warming examples of past disappointments being overcome in spectacular style.

Firstly, take the case of Pakistani cricketer Mohammad Amir.

A little over five years ago, he in prison after being sent behind bars for breaking rules on gambling. His crime was “spot fixing” ― receiving payment from gambling rings for deliberately bowling specific deliveries at specific times.

Spot fixing is by no means the most serious form of gambling corruption, and Amir’s actions did nothing to influence the overall result of the matches concerned. Like deliberately conceding a throw-in during a game of football, his offences were relatively minor and certainly in no way comparable to match-fixing.

Nevertheless, he was still guilty of breaking strictly enforced anti-corruption rules and was banned from all cricketing activity for five years, as well as serving three months in jail.

Amir was only 18 years old at the time of his suspension, and his youthful indiscretion looked like ruining an exceptionally promising career: even if he returned to the sport after the ban, how could he expect to regain his previous high standards having missed out on playing for such a long period at such a vital age?

However, after being cleared to play again towards the end of 2015, Amir quickly started to show he had lost none of the potential which had seen him regarded as the world’s most promising young bowler before his ban.

In January 2016 he resumed his international career and soon re-established himself as a key component of the Pakistan team, which headed to England for this month’s ICC Champions Trophy as one of the least fancied contestants.

And on Sunday, nearly seven years after being banned and still only 25 years old, Amir laid all his ghosts to rest by delivering a match-winning performance as Pakistan overcame all expectations by beating fierce rivals India in the final, in a game watched by up to one billion people.

Amir didn’t just play in his team’s win against India ― he starred in it. Pakistan batted first and posted an excellent total of 338 runs, but India’s batting strength was renowned and they still fancied their chances of lifting the trophy as Amir was given the stern responsibility of opening the bowling.

Three balls later, Indian batsman Rohit Sharma, who headed into the game as the tournament’s second-highest run scorer, was dismissed by Amir with a brilliant delivery which curved viciously through the air at 140 kilometres per hour before straightening towards the target.

Ten minutes later, Amir claimed the prize scalp of the man viewed by many as the world’s best batsman, India captain Virat Kohli. And before long the competition’s top scorer was also sent packing, with Shikhar Darwan getting caught off another beauty from Amir.

The best three Indian batsman had all been dismissed by Amir in the space of thirty minutes, and their challenge was effectively over, ended by a young man who had transformed himself from disgraced teenager into national icon.

Redemption of a very different variety was found on Friday night by Valencia Basketball Club, who caused an even bigger shock than Pakistan’s victory over India by overcoming the mighty Real Madrid to become Spanish champions for the first time in the club’s history.

In Valencia’s case it wasn’t a second but a third chance to finish their season in glory, after suffering the heartache of two near misses earlier in the campaign ― in February they were narrowly defeated, 97-95, by Madrid in the Spanish Cup Final, and in May they suffered another Final defeat in the EuroCup, the continent’s second most important tournament, despite leading by 13 against Malaga.

As in football, basketball in Spain is totally dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona, with no other team winning the championship since 2009. So Valencia were given little chance as they headed into the best of five final series, but they seized the initiative by winning Game 2 in Madrid.

After winning Game 3 back in Valencia easily, they knew another home victory on Friday would be enough for the title and at first it seemed like no trouble as they went ahead by 17 at half-time. But Madrid battled back, chipping away at the deficit and eventually reducing it to just five points with plenty of time left.

But Valencia managed to erase the bad memories of their recent desperate losses to hold their nerve, sparking joyful celebrations among fans who couldn’t quite believe what they had seen.

Surely there’s a life lesson for us in the triumphs enjoyed in the last few days by Amir and Valencia ― and it’s a pretty simple, well-known one: if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

It’s sounds like a cliché but it’s true. You can’t always get what you want…but if you keep on trying you might get it the next time around.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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