Making a national comeback has been Salman Butt’s most difficult quest since being suspended for five years after an ICC tribunal had found him guilty of spot-fixing in the 2010 Lord’s Test.
Having returned to first-class cricket in 2016, after completing a rehabilitation programme chalked up by the PCB, Butt struck his third century of the season – 125 off 234 balls, including 18 boundaries – to give WAPDA the first-innings advantage after Mohammad Asif’s four-wicket haul dismissed Habib Bank Limited for 236 in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final in Karachi.
For Butt it’s not just about form and fitness; it’s about winning back the fans, who were hurt after the spot-fixing scandal. During his isolation he was living in denial. Not because he wasn’t guilty, but to protect his self-esteem in public. Ultimately, he had to break down.
Butt has become more religious now, and hopes to do things right to re-start his international career. He took a significant step in reminding the selectors that his potential is still intact, in the title bout on Sunday, batting for 366 minutes and showcasing the versatility in his game. His first fifty came off 75 balls, including 10 fours. He then held his shots back and took 103 balls for his second fifty. His innings ended when he was run out by an inch in the 80th over.
Butt’s career seemed to be over when he was banned for five years, but he continues to keep knocking on the doors by the sheer weight of his performances. He had scored 536 runs at an average of 107 in the National One-Day Cup last year. In the subsequent ODI tournament in April-May 2016, he managed just 135 runs in five innings. In the shortest format he hit form again, finishing the National T20 Cup as the second-highest run-getter with 350 runs in eight innings. He has now hit 636 runs in 10 matches at an average of 42.40 in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
Mohammad Amir has been successfully re-integrated into the national set-up, but there seems to be some reluctance from the PCB in the case of both Butt and Asif. The board isn’t ready to pick them yet in the national squad, and wants them to play more domestic cricket.
“I am knocking very hard on selectors’ doors,” Butt said after the second day’s play. “I don’t want to break [down] but I want to keep myself fit and keep my form alive. With my wisdom, I am trying best with the best of my intention. Being selected isn’t my choice, it’s them [the selectors] who have to decide. I have a wish and always want to be in every squad. I have the capacity but that is something the selectors have to tell and decide.”
Pakistan’s Test squad is currently in Brisbane, preparing for the three-Test series against Australia, starting December 15. Butt, who has made 505 runs in six Test matches in Australia, including two hundreds, at an average of 42.08, urged Pakistan to be strong on the back foot in challenging conditions down under.
“It’s difficult to foresee the result. Australia aren’t the same team, and Pakistan don’t have the same set of players either,” he said. “And by playing a lot of cricket in the UAE, Pakistan’s batsmen are used to playing on the front foot. They block themselves from playing their shots because the pitches are very slow there [in the UAE]; in Australia this is not going to happen. The ball will bounce and seam more as well, so playing on the back foot will be more helpful.
“But at the same time, developing the technique overnight won’t be easy and you can survive by only scoring freely. I don’t know if they will mange to turn things their way by playing slowly there, but that has never happened in Australia.”