Salman Butt: Casualty of fixing menace amidst a blossoming career
Salman Butt © Getty Images
Born on October 7, 1984, Salman Butt will be remembered for his key involvement in the spot-fixing controversy. Before the infamous case, a bright career and a potential long-term Pakistan captain was in the making. Abhijit Banare delves into the controversial career of the elegant left-handed batsman.
It was a tumultuous time for Pakistan cricket. The hasty decision to ban Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan after a tiff and poor show Down Under in 2009-10 meant that they travelled to England in June without two of their most experienced players. Things turned worse when Shahid Afridi shocked everyone by giving up his Test captaincy after the first Test at Lord’s against Australia. A befuddled Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had just five days time before the team travelled to Leeds. Apart from Shoaib Malik, there was hardly any other experienced player who could put on the thinking cap and lead the team on the field. Under such a precarious situation a young, thick eye-browed Salman Butt was asked to regroup and step in not just for the Leeds Test but also for the four-Test England series that followed right after. Going by the situation and numbers Butt, then 26-years-old, was chosen more on the basis of form than an example of good leadership. Earlier in that year Butt had showed glimpses of a class batsman in the making with a fighting 102 at Hobart. Even at Lord’s he had stroked 63 and 92 in an otherwise dismal performance.
By the end of second Test everyone associated with Pakistan cricket heaved a huge sigh of relief as their young captain had led the team to a hard-fought victory. Since July 2009, Butt was the fifth captain of the team. After a win in his first Test as skipper, there was a lot of hope that Pakistan had at last found the leader they were frantically looking for. What unfolded in the next few weeks, beneath the carpet of this new leader was not only a potential full stop to his career, but the reputation of the gentleman’s game had been crushed at the home of cricket — Lord’s.
Much before Butt became an infamous name in the game of cricket, his was a classic story an ideal cricketer in the making. Having gone through the rigours of junior cricket, junior World Cup, Pakistan A team and finally the national debut, Butt had emerged successfully at all levels.
Early days in cricket and national debut
In the run-up to his national debut, Butt’s career had gone through various filters of Pakistan’s cricketing set-up. He made impressive strides at an early age shining simultaneously for Pakistan’s Under-17 and Under-19 team apart from playing the domestic matches. After three years in the junior circuit since 1999, he played the 2001-02 Under-19 World Cup.
Even before he entered competitive cricket, his destiny with the gentleman’s game was scripted early in his life. His father Zulfiqar Butt said to a local news channel City 42 in Lahore, “He was just two and half years old when he first held a bat. He used to play with our servant on the streets. A First-Class cricketer, who used to stay close by, asked me to come down and get a pen and diary. He asked me to write that he [Salman] will play for Pakistan one day. This was way back in 1987. Even today I have that diary.”
Having established such a solid base to his career, the Pakistan selectors always had an eye on the youngster. In October 2000, Butt, at the age of 19, was included in the Pakistan A squad to face the touring England XI. With enough matches played for the junior national side, an international debut wasn’t going to knock on his door as a surprise. He was included in the squad for the home series against Bangladesh in 2004. Butt made his debut in the third Test but didn’t make any strong impression, scoring just 12 and a fluent 37.
Soon, he was drafted into the One-Day International (ODI) team as well for the all important ICC Champions Trophy in September 2004. Pakistan qualified for the semi-final and the stylish young left-hander got his chance opening the batting along with Yasir Hameed. However, the excitement didn’t last long as he departed for a second-ball duck. He got opportunities in the tri-series involving Zimbabwe and Sri lanka but the big innings was yet to come.
Ton against India
Butt chose a fitting moment to establish his impression. India-Pakistan matches often throw up some new surprises and catapults a cricketer into a hero. It was the 20-year-old’s time now. The Inzamam-ul-Haq-led side was invited to Kolkata for a match between the arch-rivals as part of the platinum jubilee celebration of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Butt silenced the vociferous Eden Garden crowd with a brilliant display of sublime touches. He hardly ever liked taking support of aerial shots but preferred to have complete faith in his timing which could have made Sourav Ganguly proud. Just in his sixth ODI, Butt bagged the Man of the Match for his 108. His fluent strokeplay drew comparisons with the likes of Saeed Anwar and Aamer Sohail.
Thanks to some consistent performances, he retained his place in the limited overs format but was not in the Test side. He didn’t play the five-day format until the team toured Down Under. He was selected for the ODIs on tour to India. Butt soon established himself as a nemesis for the Men in Blue, striking another ton, this time a 101 from 113 balls at Jamshedpur. In 2006, he scored another 101 and in the subsequent tour to India hit an innings of 129.
| Salman Butt
| Against India in ODIs
While he was blessed with timing that matched the greats, his defensive techniques came under sharp criticism after he was prone to fishing outside off-stump. The impressive aspect of his batting was the composed manner in which he went around building his innings. As mentioned earlier, ground strokes were his forte and seldom did the ball go for a maximum. In his 78 ODIs, he has hit just seven sixes — still a low number for someone who opens the batting for his team. In subsequent years, he played the limited overs format more frequently than Tests for Pakistan. He was impressive though on the tour to Australia in 2004-05 with a 108 at Sydney.
Butt cements his place
After missing out on a Test place for over a year in 2008, he returned to the scheme of things, making a comeback in the ill-fated home series against Sri Lanka in February 2009, which was marred by terrorist attacks in his home town, Lahore. His career-defining moment came Down Under later that year. While the numbers weren’t impressive, a fighting ton against the Australians at Hobart made him notice. While the rest struggled, he hung on and fought hard for his 102. He soon became a regular in the Test side as well and later in that tour he did put up noticeable innings. He was the highest-scorer for Pakistan with 280 runs. The tour wasn’t just forgettable for the team on the field but the tiff between Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan. If Butt enjoyed reputation of scoring against Australia, he scored equally well against the Aussies in Tests.
Tour to England and the spot-fixing saga
Back in 2007 after the tour to India, the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) security unit had questioned Salman along with Umar Gul and Kamran Akmal about their association with a businessman. Perhaps that was one of the indications that the slate wasn’t clean off the field. Meanwhile, as a reliable opener, he travelled to UK for the twin series against Australia and England.
As mentioned at the start, Shahid Afridi gave up the skipper’s role after just one Test at Lord’s and the mantle was handed over to Butt. The following Test match at Leeds, he led the team to a three-wicket win over the Aussies and plenty of praise was showered on the young skipper. In the conditions conducive to swing, Butt had two of the finest talents at his disposal — Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif. The duo ran through the Aussie batting at Leeds, dismissing them for a paltry 88 with both bowlers picking three wickets each. After a victory on his debut captaincy, he looked all set to led the team few days later in the four-match Test series against England.
The Test series didn’t get off to a favourable start. The visiting side lost consecutive Test matches thanks to their poor batting. The bowlers, though, had done their job with Asif and Aamer in particular consistently troubling the batsmen. In the first two Tests, Butt scored just 16. He dropped himself down the order in the third Test, coming in at No 4 and No 3 in the respective innings. After a sensational win at The Oval, the deficit narrowed down to 1-2. As the team headed into the final Test at the home of cricket, Lord’s, all the focus was on Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif who had given England a taste of their own medicine with swing and bounce and the visitor’s had a chance to level the series.
The tainted trio of Pakistan cricket… From left: Mohammad Aamer, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif © Getty Images
The ill-fated Day at Lord’s
The ICC had already sniffed some rot as they served notices to two cricketers whose names were not revealed in July 2010. But it took an explosive sting operation from now defunct tabloid News of The World.
Under overcast conditions, the first day of the final Test was disrupted by rain and saw just 12.3 overs being bowled in which a brilliant delivery from Asif nipped back and sped through the gates to clip Andrew Strauss’s leg-stump. The following day after a delayed start, Cook nicked the third ball of the day to wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal. Under overcast conditions, the last thing you would do is face two of the finest swing bowlers. Even before the hosts realised they were down to 47 for five with Aamer picking all the wickets in the day. At 52 for five, before delivering the third ball of the 19th over, Butt from mid-off quickly ambled across to the bowler and within seconds he was ready to deliver. The next thing we know Aamer stepping over by a foot and a concerned Billy Bowden signaling no-ball.
A day later, the television channels were abuzz with discussions of a possible incident of spot-fixing. The video showed the agent from the newspaper settling a deal with Mazhar Majeed, a player agent confirming that select balls from the overs by Asif and Aamer will be a no-ball. To the horror of many the actual evidence showed the bowlers carrying out the pre-decided instructions. While Majeed was arrested, Aamer, Asif and Butt’s names started doing the rounds as the players involved in spot-fixing.
While Majeed was released on bail for the bribe of £150,000, the controversy got murkier. The fact that the captain of the team was involved in such an act further riled the cricketing world. The players’ initial reaction was remain in denial and play down the credentials of the paper.
The Scotland Yard Police released Majeed on bail on August 29. Then ICC CEO Haroon Lorgat assured thorough investigation over the sting operation. Within four days, Butt along with Asif and Aamer were banned for various offences under Article 2 of the ICC Anti-Corruption Code for Players and Player Support Personnel.
The controversy was caught with wild statements from Ijaz Butt, PCB Chariman accusing England players of fixing. Butt was the first among the tainted trio to appeal against his suspension. But the appeal was turned down. The final date for hearing the case of the three players was postponed from January 6-11 to February 4. On February 5, 2011, Butt was banned for 10 years of which five years were suspended, while Asif got a sentence of seven years and five for Aamer.
Later in the year all three were found guilty by the Southwark Crown Court under conspiracy to cheat. Judge Jeremy Cooke stated that he had kept the harshest of punishment for Butt. While delivering his verdict against Butt, Judge Cooke stated:
“It is clear to me that you were the orchestrator of this activity, as you had to be, as captain, in arranging for these bowlers to be bowling the overs which were identified in advance to Majeed and which he identified to the NOTW (News of The World) journalist. You were a natural captain, picked out as such from the age of 17 for national teams, and had the advantage of a good education. You were a man of status. As I have already said, you bear the major responsibility for the corrupt activities, along with Majeed. The evidence of the text exchange between you and Majeed in the West Indies in May 2010 shows your involvement in such activities outside the scope of the period covered by the indictment.”
A television news producer writes the sentences received by the three Pakistan cricketers and their agent on a board outside Southwark Crown Court on November 3, 2011 in London. Getty Images
Butt was to be jailed for 30 months. According to The Guardian, Butt was released in June 2012 as part of the early removal scheme. It allows foreign nationals to be released nine months before the release date provided they are deported and do not return to United Kingdom for 10 years.
In April 2013, the appeal filed by Butt and Asif at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAB) against the ICC’s decision was rejected. The appeals were heard by a three-member panel led by lawyer Graham Mew accompanied by Romano Subiotto and Robert Reid.
In June 2013, Butt publicly apologised for letting his countrymen down by getting involved in spot-fixing. In his statement Butt said: “I admit the decision of the ICC tribunal. I said it before and am saying again, that to all those who have been disappointed by my actions I do apologise for them. Also, the [negative] effect it had on cricket’s integrity, I would like to apologise for that.”
What made him go the wrong way?
Butt could have been a fine story of a young talent firing his way up to be a great leader. Very few manage to possess that balance between leadership and the ability to perform at an early age. Like Graeme Smith, who took over the mantle of South Africa’s captaincy early in his career with little experience of international cricket and redefined the history of the Rainbow Nation. Butt, in fact, had every opportunity to make it count with the world’s best pace attack which could win him matches abroad. However, unfortunately, he chose not to.
Butt’s decision to drag his players into the mess can be somewhat related to this blog by Paddy Upton, expert in mental conditioning, comparing infamous leaders in sport to corporate psychopaths. To recollect an excerpt from the piece: “To the casual observer they are intelligent, charming, and charismatic, have alluring personalities and appear very friendly. They are brilliant at creative or strategic thinking. They have outstanding communication skills and are highly persuasive, making it easy for them to inspire and manipulate others. They have an uncanny ability to spot and exploit a weakness in a person or a loophole in a system. They have massive self-belief, operate well amidst chaos, are calm and unemotional under high pressure and make difficult decisions with remarkable ease. They do whatever it takes to win.”
Some of these qualities can be easily identified with Butt. When leaders like these move up the order with experience, there is a compulsive sense of firmness and defence for indulging in such activities and eventually ending up being a bully forcing others into the act. This can be said from Aamer’s statement that the Pakistan skipper had forced him into fixing. One must consider it fortunate that he stood exposed pretty early before the cancer devalued the entire team and then the game. To add an example, S Sreesanth’s experience and seniority made it much easier for him to navigate through any suspicions and act as brazenly as we saw a few months ago.
Salman Butt’s career will be remembered as a prime example of a bright talent gone wrong at the peak of his career. However, there is one thing that binds these tainted personalities. They used the wrong means to inject unwanted adventures into their careers and fell. But deep down they do have a sense that cricket had given them a life which they needed to be grateful to. Sreesanth, Butt, Asif or take any other cricketers, have always expressed their desire to return to competitive cricket — if not international, at least domestic. By the time Butt serves his ban and returns to the game he will be in his 30s. It would not be the best option for a selector to put his money on a reformed cricketer, but Butt continues to believe that it is possible. At least for that one must respect the cricketer within them despite all the dubious actions they have committed.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)