LAHORE: Plans for an international recall for former Pakistan captain Salman Butt have been shelved for now, in light of the continuing fallout from the recent corruption allegations emanating from the Pakistan Super League (PSL). Salman has no connection to the PSL corruption issue, but his role in the spot-fixing scandal in England in 2010, for which he was banned, has forced a selection rethink ahead of Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies. Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Shaharyar Khan had publicly cleared Salman’s potential selection earlier this year, but it appears he will have to wait longer for a comeback. Salman was even informed by a selector last month that he was being considered for the national side. But last week he was told that those plans had been set aside for now, as the present circumstances were not ideal for his return.
Five players - Sharjeel Khan, Khalid Latif, Mohammad Irfan, Shahzaib Hasan and Nasir Jamshed - were provisionally suspended for their alleged involvement in spot-fixing during the PSL and face various corruption charges. The PCB was thus keen to avoid criticism by recalling Salman, who has not featured for his country since returning to domestic cricket from a five-year ban for corruption. Salman’s name had cropped up in recent selection meetings - headed by Inzamaul Haq - as a reflection of Pakistan’s continuing struggle with opening batsmen. There was reluctance among some members of the management but the proposition wasn’t rejected outright, and the chairman’s clearance was seen as a green signal.
Since his return Salman has impressed on the domestic circuit. He was the second-highest run-scorer in the National One-day Cup with 536 runs at 107.20 in 2015. He resumed his first-class career in 2016, as captain of the WAPDA side who won the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, and scored 749 runs at 49.40 in the season, including twin hundreds in the final. He was also the second highest run-getter in the National T20 Cup last year. Salman was 26 when he was banned, having played 33 Tests, 78 ODIs and 24 T20Is. Since then, he has attended anti-corruption rehabilitation programmes conducted by the PCB, taken part in social work and publicly apologised, though he had pleaded his innocence until 2013. Salman, who was Pakistan captain at the time, was also sentenced to 30 months in jail for his part in the Lord’s scandal.
The two other players punished at the time, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, have also returned to cricket after completing their bans. Amir has been successfully re-integrated into the national set-up, and so forms a precedent of sorts for any more returns. Butt’s selection had also been mooted ahead of Pakistan’s tour to England in 2016, when the captain Misbahul Haq admitted he was impressed by Salman form. “We have a settled line up between numbers three and seven but the opening slot is not as consistent as the rest of the order,” Misbah had said last year. “There are issues and we are looking at a couple more options including Shan Masood and Salman Butt. Salman is playing well and overall I didn’t see any such difference since he left in 2010. He is a good prospect and he has also scored ample runs after his comeback.”
With an average of 30.46 from 33 Tests, Salman was never prolific at Test level, but a dearth of other options has made Pakistan look towards him again. Ahmad Shahzad has not played a Test since being dropped from the side in 2015 and Masood has struggled to cement his spot at the top of the order. Mohammad Hafeez’s inconsistency has made him a less attractive option at the top. Sami Aslam had impressed with twin fifties in his first Test against England last year but faded away, with only one score above 22 in his last nine innings. Sharjeel’s suspension has deprived Pakistan of yet another opening batsman, and the only bright spark has been Azhar since being pushed up as a makeshift opener.