Disgraced opener Salman Butt moved closer to making an international comeback after Pakistan chief selector Inzamam-ul Haq said the 32-year-old was being considered for national duty.
Butt returned to domestic cricket in January last year after serving a five-year ban for his role in the spot-fixing scandal in England in 2010 that also included fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. Left-arm quick Amir has already been fast-tracked into the national team and played a pivotal role in their Champions Trophy win in England.
“Salman Butt performed very well during the domestic series and displayed high level of fitness at the PCB camp despite being out of the game for six years,” Inzamam said.
The left-handed batsman scored 536 runs in the domestic one-day competition.
Former captain Inzamam added that while Butt won’t be part of the senior team in the immediate future, he remains in contention for future assignments.
According to reports, Butt could be included in the Pakistan ‘A’ team.
“We are trying not to push him directly into international cricket after such a long hiatus. Salman Butt is still in consideration for the future,” Inzamam added.
“He was there in our high-performance camp and was exceptional. It’s fantastic to see that a player has been out for five years but still maintained a high standard of fitness.
“He has checked all the boxes for his selection. We are not selecting him directly in the international circuit but are trying to have him play in the ‘A’ team first and will take it from there.”
Butt has scored 11 international centuries across formats and is seen by some as a viable option to infuse experience in the Test team after the retirements of both Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.
Former batsman Ramiz Raja insists he will always be against the idea of an international recall for disgraced Salman Butt, saying tainted cricketers should never be “given any second chance.”
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief selector Inzamam Ul-Haq confirmed on Saturday that they are looking at the option of reintegrating Butt, 32, into the national team with the possibility of him playing for a Pakistan A side first.
Butt has not donned the national jersey since he was jailed for 30 months, although he was released after seven months, following his involvement in the spot-fixing case that overshadowed the fourth Test against England at Lord’s in 2010.
He served a five-year ban from the ICC however Butt has pressed his case for selection after impressing in the domestic competitions.
The men in green will begin life without two of the most influential batsmen after batting mainstays Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan called time on their international careers after the West Indies Test series in May.
Sarfraz Ahmed has taken over the armband in the longer format with his first assignment against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
Butt is not named in that squad but it does of course Mohammed Amir, who was also found guilty of the same spot-fixing incident at Lord’s.
Amir eventually made his international comeback against New Zealand in a T20I in January 2016 – and his since been a formidable part of the team in all formats.
While Raja has questioned whether Amir should be representing his nation, he believes there should be no way back for tainted cricketers including ex-skipper Butt, even if there are batting debacles.
“My take on tainted cricketers remains the same over the years,” he told Sport360° at the t-Lounge by Dilmah at Dubai’s Ibn Battuta Mall.
“We have suffered a lot in their hands and they don’t need any mercy, they don’t need any second chance.
“I can only raise my voice and I have got a certain opinion and one which I will stick by with my principle. When you play for your country, it’s an honour. There should be 11 people who are looking to win you the match. Suddenly you find that eight of them were trying desperately to win you a match and three who were conspiring to lose you the game. That experience can only be felt by a player who is actually part of such a scenario.
“Pakistan had to regain its status after being thrown into this situation. Under Misbah they have now resurfaced and it was a tremendous achievement by Misbah and his men.
“For me, two and half years of cricket jail-term is nothing. So in my book, all these players, should not be given another chance.”
For now, the focus for Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur will be to build on their Champions Trophy and World XI series successes in the Test series against Sri Lanka.
Raja believes Ahmed has all the qualities to make Pakistan a formidable force in the longer format and believes Sri Lanka, who suffered a series whitewash to India in August, is the perfect opposition to make his bow.
“Misbah and Younis will be badly missed,” said Raja, who played 198 ODIs and 57 Tests. “It’s a new beginning under a new captain and I’m hoping that we will see Sarfraz contribute as a captain and impact Pakistan Test cricket in a different way.
“Misbah had his own method and did extremely well over the years. Sarfraz has his own ways of dealing with situations and has been extremely successful when it comes to T20 and 50-overs cricket. That will obviously help him to think positively as a Test captain.
“It won’t be simple and he will have to rejig their batting combination and the only good bit about Test cricket is that they are playing Sri Lanka who are at their weakest mentally. They have been beaten by India and Zimbabwe in the Tests and this mental situation will allow Sarfraz to settle in. It will give him a bit more breathing space.”
Pakistan’s prolific leg-spinner Yasir Shah passed a late fitness test Saturday to join the 16-man squad for the two-match Test series against Sri Lanka starting next week.
The 31-year-old has been team’s leading wicket-taker since making his debut in 2014, with a tally of 149 scalps in 26 Tests.
Shah’s 24 wickets in three Tests helped Pakistan beat Sri Lanka away in 2015 but the stocky spinner has struggled for fitness in the past few months.
Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said Shah was told in clear terms that he would not be selected if he didn’t pass the final fitness test.
“Yasir has been our main bowler for the way he has taken wickets consistently, but he needed to maintain a fitness standard and was told he had to pass the test and he did to get a place in the squad,” said Inzamam while announcing the squad.
The first Test starts in Abu Dhabi from Thursday. The second Test – a day-night affair – will be played in Dubai from October 6.
The two teams will also play five one-day internationals and three Twenty20s, the last of which will be in Lahore on October 29 – subject to security clearance.
The series will be Pakistan’s first without stalwarts Younis Khan and former skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, who both retired following the team’s last series in the West Indies in May.
Sarfraz Ahmed, already leading Pakistan in one-day and Twenty20 internationals, will lead the Test side for the first time, with youngsters Usman Salahuddin and Babar Azam likely to fill in for the two greats.
“I am sure youngsters will try their best to fill the places left by Misbah and Younis and do their best,” said Inzamam.
Pakistan have also selected 25-year-old uncapped left-arm fast bowler Mir Hamza who has taken 216 wickets in 46 first class matches.
The squad has five fast bowlers and three spinners.
The 31-year-old spinner Bilal Asif has not played a Test but has featured in three one-day internationals in the past.
Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Sami Aslam, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Asghar, Bilal Asif, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Wahab Riaz