KARACHI: Former Pakistan captain Salman Butt and pace-bowler Mohammad Asif can make their return to cricket this week following five-year bans, but age and public hostility mean the pair face a hard road to redemption.
On Wednesday, they will join left-arm quick Mohammad Amir, whose own ban was relaxed by the International Cricket Council six months ago, in being free to restart their careers.
The trio were suspended in 2010 for taking £150,000 to bowl three no-balls during the Lord’s Test of Pakistan’s tour to England, and also served jail time along with bookie Mazhar Majeed.
Batsman Butt, now 30, was captain of the side at the time and looked set for a long period as the team’s leader before his career crashed to a halt. “My heart tells me I should wake up early in the morning and go to a ground and bat,” he told AFP. “It’s the cricket field where I want to start my redemption and prove myself again.”
Asif, who will be 33 in December, was already considered one of the finest exponents of swing bowling in the world and appeared set to become yet another Pakistani fast-bowling great until his suspension. “It is definitely a long-awaited day for me,” said the lanky right-armer. “I have started bowling in the nets and look forward to my return.”
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has announced that both players must restart their careers at club level, but both may face serious opposition from officials and the country’s cricket-mad public.
For all his feats on the field, Asif was always controversial off it. He had already failed two dope tests for drug use — one of which resulted in a one-year ban in 2008.
Moreover, unlike Amir who confessed early, both Butt and Asif denied their guilt until they had exhausted all legal avenues of appeal. Butt, meanwhile, was widely blamed for coercing the young Amir into wrongdoing.
The PCB has devised a six-month roadmap for the duo, ordering them to play club and grade-II cricket before venturing into first-class competition.
They are also required to lecture domestic players about the perils of fixing.
Age weighs heavily against the duo, particularly Asif who at 32 is now beyond the generally accepted peak years for a pace-bowler.
Precocious Amir, who at 18 became the youngest player in history to take 50 Test wickets, received widespread sympathy from across the cricketing world at the time of his ban.
The PCB were able convince the ICC to relax his ban, allowing him to feature in domestic matches from April this year.
But a long lay-off exposed his fragile fitness, something which may hinder his early return to international cricket even though at 23 his best years could still be ahead of him.
“I am not looking for international cricket so soon. I have to work on my fitness and perform consistently then only can I expect to play at the top level,” said Amir, who says he is targeting a comeback for Pakistan in the World Twenty20 in India next March.
If he succeeds there, he could theoretically tour England in July, returning to the country where he was caught fixing.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2015.
Like Sports on Facebook, follow @ETribuneSports on Twitter to stay informed and join in the conversation.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ