Once regarded as one of the top left-handed opening batsmen, the former Pakistan captain Salman Butt is now looking to resume his international career after being given permission to play cricket again by the ICC. Debuting in 2003, the thirty-two-year-old Butt had played one hundred and thirty five international games and amassed over five thousand runs for his country until the ICC imposed ban was enforced in 2010.
In an interview with PakPassion.net, Butt spoke about his remorse for past actions, his road to redemption, his determination to return to international cricket on the back of some robust domestic performances, views on Misbah-ul-Haq's handling of the Test team since 2010 and whether he is mentally ready to make a return to the Pakistan team.
By Saj Sadiq (7th November, 2016)
PakPassion.net : How difficult has it been to make a comeback to cricket after your five year ban?
Salman Butt : It's not been that difficult actually. It's been easy because during these past five and a half years I have been training every day and practising wherever I could and I tried to make the most of the time that I was away from cricket. I kept myself fit and kept going and remained determined. Putting in those hard yards during my ban made things easier for my comeback.
PakPassion.net : While you were banned, were there any doubts in your mind about whether you would play cricket again?
Salman Butt : I'm not sure about what other people thought, but I had faith that I would come back and play cricket again. The most important thing for me was to make a good start and scoring a century in my first innings was a huge boost. It sent out a message that there were no issues with my fitness and that there were no self-doubts. In the first competition that I played in I batted for forty or more overs in five out of the first seven games and never came off the field for any injury or rest or anything else. So the tone was set and a good start in my comeback really helped me.
PakPassion.net : Looking back now, how do you feel about throwing away five years of your cricket career at a point when you were Pakistan's Test captain?
Salman Butt : Anyone in my position would be frustrated. To lose five years of cricket at a time when I was at my peak is very sad. When I think about it I feel very sad with what occurred.
PakPassion.net : Any remorse or regrets from yourself regarding the events of 2010?
Salman Butt : Yes definitely, there are lots of regrets. I've had to go through a long period of rehabilitation and I am very remorseful. During my rehabilitation I wanted to educate young cricketers about the dangers of such actions and to convey the right message to cricketers, especially young cricketers. To be honest, I really don't get a nice feeling whenever I think back about what happened.
PakPassion.net : I guess whilst it's difficult to forget the events of the past, you need to move forward with your career?
Salman Butt : Now that I have entered a professional period in my career once again and I am back playing cricket, I want to look to the future and not concentrate too much on what happened in the past and the events of the past. If I keep thinking about the past that will not allow me to move freely in the future.
PakPassion.net : The 'Fake Sheikh', Mazher Mahmood was recently found guilty of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Have you instructed your legal representatives to pursue any action against him?
Salman Butt : I think that is a question for my legal representatives. I've been told not to make any comments regarding this matter as my legal team is looking into the matter for me.
PakPassion.net : You made a sensational start to domestic cricket after your comeback and now I guess it's down to putting in some solid performances in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy?
Salman Butt : I'm enjoying my cricket. I'm hitting the ball well and feeling good and I'm just a couple of big innings away and hopefully not too far from getting a few good scores. Once I have a hundred or two under my belt then I will be fine. I've found some unusual and unlucky ways to get dismissed lately but I'm confident and happy with the way I'm middling the ball and I'm sure some big scores are coming soon.
PakPassion.net : Mohammad Amir had an altercation with an opposition player when he made his comeback. How have team-mates and opposition players been towards you?
Salman Butt : Things on the field can happen in the heat of the moment and there can be a rush of blood between players which I guess is what happened in that incident involving Amir. But I've had no problems. I have been fine with everybody. My team-mates and the opposition players have been fine with me. I've received a warm welcome and I have had no incidents with anybody so far.
PakPassion.net : As Mohammad Amir made his comeback to cricket, you had to wait on the sidelines. That must have been frustrating for you?
Salman Butt : Anyone in our position was desperate to play cricket again and would love to be back playing cricket as soon as possible and at that time it was frustrating to have to wait. As cricket is my passion, I wanted to come back as soon as possible but there was a wait involved in this process which I had to bear patiently. However thankfully I am back now and I want to make up for lost time and get to the place that I want to be.
PakPassion.net : Misbah-ul-Haq took over as Test captain in 2010 when Pakistan cricket was in turmoil. You must admire the work he has done and perhaps think that it could have been you leading your team to such success?
Salman Butt : He deserves a lot of credit. He's been a wonderful captain. He's given Pakistan cricket some very proud moments. He is a person who has held the ship together and at the same time he himself has performed wonderfully. Regarding if it could have been me in those shoes, I can't move things back and think about what could have been, I must move forward.
PakPassion.net : There is still some resentment from fans against your comeback and whether you should be allowed to play for Pakistan again. How do you feel about that?
Salman Butt : If serving a punishment doesn't change you and people still tag you, then we should create another country or another place for those people to serve their punishments in isolation and away from the rest of society. Is that what people want? Look, I have served the punishment and I need to be allowed to move on and I feel there is no harm in me playing cricket again. It's up to the Almighty to forgive us. I cannot keep on apologising everywhere I go. I have done my punishment and hope people realise and accept this.
PakPassion.net : You are back in the same team (WAPDA) as Mohammad Asif. How does that feel and how is he doing as a bowler?
Salman Butt : Firstly there is no harm in me being in the same team as Asif who is doing really well as a bowler. The likes of Mohammad Asif and Wasim Akram are not born every day and cannot be created by coaches. If coaches could create such players there would be hundreds of them. We must respect the skill level that Asif still possesses. He has a gift from God and that is still with him and can be seen by all.
PakPassion.net : Do you believe that as a batsman you can reach the same levels as at the time when you were at your best for Pakistan?
Salman Butt : I've only been seen by the people who have come to watch the matches recently since my comeback, so the vast majority have not seen me batting. I want to get back to the place I was when I was at my best. At the moment I am in a gradual process and I don't want to boast about what I can do regarding my game. There's hard work ahead and that is my focus.
PakPassion.net : There were issues when Mohammad Amir came back into international cricket with some players not wanting to play in the same team as him. Already there have been some voices against your return to international cricket. How do you feel about this?
Salman Butt : I'm not sure about the thought process of those individuals regarding my comeback and what their intentions were. My focus is on coming back and if the Almighty is with me then nobody can stop my international return. But, if the Almighty does not wish for me to do so, then nothing in this world can make me play international cricket again.
PakPassion.net : Do you think that after the events of 2010 and your subsequent ban, you still have the mental toughness to play international cricket?
Salman Butt : If I felt that I wasn't mentally tough enough to play for Pakistan again then I wouldn't have bothered making a comeback. I've had to do my rehabilitation and put in some extra time during my ban. I have scored runs in every competition that I have played in so far and that is whilst playing against players who are currently playing for Pakistan. I don't think there will be any issues mentally or physically. It's just about going out there and performing and I'm sure everything will be fine.
PakPassion.net : Have any of the selectors been in touch with you?
Salman Butt : They watched me in the One-Day tournament and they watched me in the National Twenty20 Cup and of course they will be monitoring what is going on in the Quaid-E-Azam Trophy at the moment so there is no shortage of attention. It's just about getting a couple of big scores to give them a gentle reminder. I have faith in the selectors that they will give me the same chance as anyone else. There are no guarantees over selection and all I can do is to perform in domestic cricket and leave the rest to the selection committee.
PakPassion.net : The Pakistan top six in Test cricket is a settled unit. Do you think you can force your way into the Pakistan Test team once again?
Salman Butt : Playing for Pakistan is my ultimate goal and nobody is guaranteed a place in the Pakistan team forever. It's all about performances and whenever the need arises for me then I will be ready. There is no set place for anyone in the national team. Every domestic player has to be ready to perform at the highest level when needed and I am no different. I am confident that if and when my chance arises I will be ready for the challenge of international cricket once again.