New Delhi: Salman Butt was once seen as the heir apparent to the great Saeed Anwar. But after being implicated in the spot-fixing scandal of 2010, he became a cricketing pariah.
Having served a lengthy ban, Butt understandably prefers to look forward at what he can still offer the game that was at the heart of his life from the time he was a young boy.
In an exlcusive chat with Gulf News, he looks back at his journey, ditches and all, and what lies ahead.
Butt sheds light on his cricketing experience including his batting in India — and the dominance of Indian cricketers in the contemporary cricket.
While speaking highly of Virat Kohli, he also wants to see changes in the country’s domestic cricketing structure, as Pakistan is battling for the revival of regular international cricket at home after 2009 gruesome attack on Sri Lankan team bus at Lahore’s Liberty Chowk. The 2020 Pakistan Super League, however, seems a step in the right direction.
Q: How do you look back at a time when you made Test debut at Multan against Bangladesh in 2003 before becoming Pakistan’s Test captain in 2010 when Shahid Afridi said, “Salman is showing maturity. He’s good enough to take over as a captain”?
A: Well, you’ve asked me to cover between 2003 and 2010 in a question (laughs)... 2003 was wonderful — to debut for Pakistan and it was a very proud moment for me. I am honoured to become a Test player of a nation like Pakistan, and it’s a huge achievement. And until the day I became captain it was another honourable moment and the very proud moment and something to cherish for the rest of my life. Everything in between was a roller-coaster ride.
During you early days, many compared you with stalwart Saeed Anwar given to the temperament and attitude use of supple wrists. Describe your cricketing journey and what motivated you to become a cricketer; has there been any inspiration around?
Luckily, some of my shots had some resemblance with great Saeed Bhai. And that’s about it. I am nowhere close to what legend Saeed Anwar was, and he will always be my favourite player and one of the best what Pakistan ever produced. And I in fact rate him one of the best openers in the world. I feel really very good when somebody gives a comparison. Well, just that feeling of being compared gives me a lot of motivation and happiness. He’s great, and we always learn from him.
How do you see Pakistan’s domestic cricketing structure? Being studious, how did you manage to get the time during your younger days while spending hours under scorching sun?
Well, Pakistan’s domestic structure actually has some excellent cricket in it. When we talk about the distinct departments playing first-class cricket, it’s very competitive, because every department has five or six Test players and three or four current and very good experienced players as well. All every department wants to do is to win the tournament and that makes it a very competitive one.
Whereas, the regional cricket needs reforms. We’ve selection issues over there because the voting of the clubs thus brings politics into it. And it’s not always fair, and in fact, it is very unfair to some boys who’re good, and they don’t get selected. So, it needs some work to be done on the regional level.
Talk us through your entry in the PSL for Lahore Qalandars in 2019? How do you see your association with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the first-class set-up?
You know I had been performing really very well in domestic Twenty20s, but to my surprise none of the franchises or the people who make franchise teams… I don’t know why I never got picked — I expected to get picked, because I was always finishing in the top three since my ban was lifted, and I was around first, second, third position always in the T20s. But, thankfully for me Lahore Qalandars were the people who initiated that move and I was doing a TV show on the Pakistan Super League (PSL) when actually I got message from them. Well, Qalandars coach Aqib Javid said that I am joining Lahore Qalandars. And, it was great news for me. I would deem it as one of the best newses that ever came across me since my ban got lifted and I am very thankful to them for providing me this opportunity and making me part of Lahore Qalandars.
I play first-class cricket for Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA). I am captaining Pakistan WAPDA in the last three years and this KPK thing was that we get a tournament which is the Pakistan Cup in which five teams with the name of every province participate and the best 75 players are in a pool where the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) or the selectors make teams. Besides the team names are there but all the players can play for any side which ever they get picked from and that’s how I ended up leading KPK, and I am glad that it was my first stunt with them. We won the Pakistan Cup which was a great result and it was all due to the great team effort and great sprit shown by my boys who were playing for the KPK.
Describe your feeling when you made the return to competitive cricket in 2016 only to have a terrific season in the domestic fold?
Well, it was something that I was waiting for to make a comeback and to get my ban lifted and it was a great relief actually when the time came and I had been preparing for that all those years. I had been trying to keep myself fit and ready and thankfully when I came back in the first game I scored a hundred then I ended up scoring two hundreds in the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy—the premier four-day competition that we have and Alhamdulillah it was a great comeback season for me. And, I thought on my performances I would represent Pakistan but only selectors could tell why I wasn’t to be pick after performing well if everything was fair and square then I still don’t know the reason till today. But, yes that was a great season and it was a terrific to be back like that…
A lot has been said about Karachi and Lahore divide in terms of selection, how you would reflect on it?
Whereas, you talk about Karachi and Lahore there is always in every place you go in the world- Australia Melbourne-Sydney big game and in India it’s Mumbai-Delhi maybe likewise Karachi-Lahore they’ve produced some excellent cricketers and that is about it—the rivalry is that… It’s good for cricket. Both compete very well with each other and produce lots of players and that’s how I reflect on it.
Pakistan’s batting has always been criticised for its timid approach, and what is the main reason the batters have had failed to keep the scoreboard ticking at pace in the middle overs? What you feel is the solution to this traditional approach?
I think Pakistan have not always been timid. You see Pakistan has produced some of the great players that the game has seen and obviously they were not timid they were brave and that is why they won overseas more than other teams do. Pakistan won the World Cup in Australia where usually the Asian teams have struggled historical. And when you talk about the current set up it’s because we are the only team who haven’t had a home games for years now. Our boys keep playing most of their cricket in Dubai where the pitches are low and slow where not many high score are scored.
You see in the Asia Cup (2018) when the Indian team was there which are one the best batting units in the world. How many three hundred-plus scores did we see over there? We didn’t see any. How many international players who play IPL also turn up for the PSL? How many runs do they get in the UAE? Because of the slow and abrasive nature of the pitches the batsmen failed there more often than not and that is why our players have been deprived of good conditions where they could express themselves by confidence and playing their shorts confidently that is a place where you have to be circumspect and you get only reasonable totals not big totals and as a result you don’t get much runs under your belt and there no other reason… There is no shortage of talent. I think once we get back home, and keep playing our cricket at home we will develop much more quicker and we will be as good as any other team Insha’Allah.
When you talk about the traditional approach, I think the traditional approach has been adopted by the Indian team during the ICC World Cup and they are the ones who are doing it the best in the World Cup. Because this traditional approach which you call it, is actually a right approach and according to the conditions as well. And I believe if you take your time as a batsman and go deep in the innings that is something which makes you great player like Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma or Joe Root from England and people like them. And you can’t be trying for sixes and fours every time in the name of modern cricket or you know the new approach to the cricket. The best way and the best way to become a great player across all formats: is to take your time. See off the good bowling, attack the bowling where you can and respect the opposition and as a result you do what is your target more often than not. It’s about being an average player a being a consistent player.
Who according to you, is a world-class batsman in contemporary cricket and why? How you gauge Team India skipper Virat Kohli across formats?
There are a few world-class players around at the moment, and obviously Virat Kohli is right up there in the list. Apart from him, Rohit Sharma, AB de Villiers and Joe Root are the ones who are best in business.
Babar Azam, although still not there with these four that I named before, but he is somebody definitely who has the qualities and can become like them if he keeps on working hard. If you talk about Indian skipper (Kohli) well what else you can say except good about what he has done world cricket. He has been brilliant across all formats, and his adaptability has been brilliant he has been successful all around the world. His batting has the adaptability and the responsibility that he takes, and the way he allows to play around him and he is switched on talking to every player on the other end whenever there is a bad short played we see him go and talk to the other teammate. And that is great that’s how you want your senior or the best players to be and he is certainly a great player and a great gentleman.
Records suggest you’ve enjoyed facing Indian bowlers by smashing a record five ODI centuries out of eight overall ODI career hundreds against the Men in Blue. How you personally see their bowling stocks now as a professional?
I thought India had a very decent bowling attack when I played against them. If we talk about Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Anil Kumble, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhjajan Singh and (Laxmipathy) Balaji, I think there were pretty decent attack and they bowled the new ball really well - they reverse swung the ball. In their time, India had lots of victories even outside Indian which they were not known to do before that.
And the bowling now is also very good if you talk about (Jasprit) Bumrah, if you talk about Bhuvneshawar (Kumar) and (Mohammad) Shami- they all are very good seamers. And also the two spinners that are now playing for India; Chahal and Kuldeep. I think they are wonderful spinners and they are wicket takers in the middle of the innings and certainly any team who is considered as favourite for winning.
It is a very essential ingredient to have bowlers who pick wickets in the middle of the innings. I reckon India had got that thing covered, in the face of these two spinners. I think they are India’s strength in the middle of the overs when India is bowling.
Who was the bowler you felt was the best in business? Have you started thinking about retirement or are you mulling over making a comeback aged 34?
Well, age is only a number. It’s about fitness and performance, and that I what have in my mind. So, retirement would go to the bin for the moment. Alhamdulillah, I am fit and I am trying to keep scoring runs and see what happens. In the bowlers, yes, I have faced a lot of great bowlers of the time when I was playing cricket, and certainly Glenn McGrath was right at the top of the bracket. If we talk about spinners, I played both Murali and Shane Warne, and I don’t think much can separate them. They were obviously two different bowlers, but both great in their own right and it was an honour to play and share the field with these guys. Yes, all of them were tough opponents.
Interestingly, you got a mention in Sourav Ganguly’s book – “A Century is Not Enough” in which he pointed out that you alongside Mohammad Hafeez, and Tatenda Taibu ‘were not up to the mark replacements’ when Brendon McCullum, Ricky Ponting left for national duties. How do you see it?
I haven’t read Sourav’s (Ganguly) book and I do not know what context he was talking about or he has written when he says what you referring to. So, I feel that it’s not appropriate to comment on it.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in India