A veteran of 71 Test matches, former England batsman Mark Butcher served his country with aplomb after his international debut in 1997 where he scored 4288 runs for his country and had an equally impressive first-class career with 17,870 runs to his name at an average of over 40.
Currently a well-respected cricket pundit and commentator, Butcher, in an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, spoke about why he is looking forward to visiting Pakistan for his assignment as a TV commentator for the fifth season of the Pakistan Super League, his excitement at looking forward to watching Pakistan pace bowling talents such as Naseem Shah in action, the importance of visits by foreign personalities like himself for the restoration of international cricket to Pakistan and his wish to see an emerging young star of the future from this edition of the PSL.
By Saj Sadiq (27th February, 2020)
PakPassion.net: Are you looking forward to heading to Pakistan to commentate on the Pakistan Super League?
Mark Butcher: I certainly am. It’s a country that is endlessly fascinating to me because I never got the chance to tour there as a player. I have only ever set foot in Pakistan once and that was whilst working for PTV when England were playing Pakistan in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. During that trip, I visited Islamabad and only got to see the inside of my hotel and the armoured vehicle taking me from the hotel to the television studios and back. So, this time, I am really looking forward to being able to see a little bit more of the country and experience the love of cricket that I know exists in Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: Are you hoping that it will be more than just a working trip and you will get a chance to see the ‘real’ Pakistan?
Mark Butcher: I’m not entirely sure as I don’t know the arrangements they will have for us in terms of security and whether we will be free to move about as we please or not. My feeling is that we probably won’t be, but we will do the best we can to experience the country in whatever way we are allowed to. Obviously, the issues are well-documented in terms of people traveling to Pakistan at the moment and that remains an enormous shame.
I think the most positive thing I can say about it all is that the barriers are starting to come down a little bit and international cricket looks set to return to Pakistan. It’s a real blow that South Africa are not going there for whatever their reasons might be. Hopefully, if we are having this conversation in 2-3 years’ time, the country will be more open to visitors for them to go and experience the country.
PakPassion.net: What appealed to you about working on the Pakistan Super League?
Mark Butcher: I’ve had an enormous amount of positive feedback about the quality of the cricket and the quality of the players in the Pakistan Super League and one thing you know about working on leagues wherever they are in the world is that they are only as strong as the core of the home-grown talent. You can add as many superstars from around the world to these teams but they are only as good as the make-up of talent in the home country itself.
From what I have heard from people who have worked in the Pakistan Super League over the years, is that in terms of quality, the Pakistan Super League is right up there. That’s what interests me the most, to go out to Pakistan and see that local talent. Pakistan has always had this record of producing very young, highly-talented and raw cricketers, bowlers mainly, but batsmen too. That’s what I am looking forward to experiencing and also whether the things that I have heard about, match up with what I see.
PakPassion.net: Are there any particular players that you are looking forward to seeing at the Pakistan Super League?
Mark Butcher: I can’t wait to see pace-bowler Naseem Shah. Seeing Naseem and Tymal Mills bowling in tandem together for Quetta Gladiators will be a lot of fun. I’m also looking forward to seeing Haris Rauf and Shaheen Shah Afridi who I have not seen live. Then, of course, there is Babar Azam who lit up the Blast playing for Somerset last year. He’s not had the best of times at the PSL but you feel that a player of his qualities and his class will come good eventually in the tournament.
There are plenty of other players that I am looking forward to seeing, such as Imran Tahir, who is great fun to watch especially when he loses it after taking a wicket. In addition, there’s a lot of old and new out there with Kieron Pollard being back, Dale Steyn desperately wanting to impress as South Africa have reintegrated him into the Twenty20 squad with a view to playing in the T20 World Cup. Then you have the likes of Chris Lynn, they are players who light up leagues around the world and they are all present in the Pakistan Super League.
PakPassion.net: What is the one thing that you are most looking forward to from the Pakistan Super League?
Mark Butcher: The one thing that you know you are always going to get watching Pakistani cricket players is some young guy you have never heard of suddenly becomes a world-beater over the course of the tournament and that is something that is very exciting for me.
PakPassion.net: Twenty20 cricket seems to be taken a lot more seriously than when it initially started. Why do you think that is?
Mark Butcher: I think it’s the most popular form of the game and players will take it seriously because there is a living to be made out of it. Nowadays, you can play Twenty20 cricket exclusively and earn a living as a professional cricketer playing just the Twenty20 format. It is a very serious format of the game, and it didn’t take very long for that to be the case.
I remember I was around the first year it was played in England in 2003 and it was more of a ‘hit and giggle’ type thing than anything too serious. It was a game that club players played on a Thursday night and it wasn’t taken very seriously, but things changed once people understood a bit more about the pressure on batsmen to score runs at high rates, and watching bowlers come under an enormous amount of pressure trying to stop those runs being scored. What it’s done for the game as a whole in terms of improving skill-levels and improving the spectacle of the game is second to none. Therefore, it’s now taken very seriously, as it should be.
PakPassion.net: How important a role do you feel international players and former players like yourself have in the return of international cricket to Pakistan?
Mark Butcher: If we move forward at the same pace we are doing now for another 2, 3 or 4 years, you never know the international community or cricket community at large might have a wholesale return to Pakistan and we can only hope that is the case. Pakistan is just so important to the overall picture of world cricket. The fact that Pakistan has maintained its competitiveness and still been relatively successful without playing any international cricket at home is a testament to the talent and the love of the game there is in the country.
I’m not saying that I am doing anything out of the ordinary and it’s not as though my appearance in Pakistan will suddenly mean that the world will come flooding back to Pakistan as a venue, that’s simply not the case. We are there because it’s what we do for a living, but if due to us, there is encouragement to be gained and more people are going and saying Pakistan is safe and enjoying cricket there again, then perhaps more will follow and we would have contributed our share to this cause.
PakPassion.net: English players are playing in the Pakistan Super League and English commentators are commentating on it too. I guess we could be seeing the ECB sending a team to Pakistan in the not too distant future?
Mark Butcher: I mean that’s the hope, isn’t it? That’s why I mentioned my disappointment of South Africa pulling out of their tour. At the moment, you will only see international sides going to Pakistan who are financially in need of playing as much cricket as possible or touring as much as they can. Bangladesh have been there already, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka have done so as well, but I think Pakistan is a little way away from the likes of England and Australia and India returning to the country. When that happens, Pakistan will be fully back on the international scene, but we are a little way off that just yet.
PakPassion.net: What memories do you want to come back with from your trip to Pakistan?
Mark Butcher: I’m going out there to work and enjoy the experience. You make great friends with the people that you work with in the commentary box and as I said before, if you clap eyes on a star of the future for the first time and you are there on their journey from being relatively unknown to becoming a superstar, then that is always a very fulfilling part of the job.