April 16, 2014

Still plenty of ifs for Butt

Salman Butt appears to think that redemption will be his by insisting that players should refrain from "wrongdoing". That shouldn't gain him back the trust of those he duped
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Salman Butt: talks long and loud of resuming his international career
Salman Butt: talks long and loud of resuming his international career © AFP

I realise this is something one really shouldn't admit in a cricketing publication, but I nearly lost a Wisden once. There I was, poring over my brand-new 1969 edition aboard a boat chugging down the rainswept Thames, when the wind suddenly picked up, I lost my grip and it tumbled into the water. Fortunately, my friend's mother, assuredly no fan of flannelled folly, saw my horrified response and plunged in to rescue it. She possessed no other redeeming characteristics that my 12-year-old self could detect, but no matter. Whenever I look at that 106th instalment of the planet's best-known sporting annual, and see its baggy shabbiness, I think of her.

That's why the following confession pains me. Ending a meaningful relationship is never easy, should never be easy, particularly when it stretches back to childhood. Confusion and uncertainty rage, fuelled by that omnipresent threat of regret. Memories reel back and forth, blurring and exaggerating. I may yet recant (perhaps when England next give us a winter to cherish), but, as things stand, I have purchased my last new Wisden. Partly because the game is now covered in unprecedented depth and accessible, quotidian fashion, but also because I've run out of shelf space.

It's not that the yellow brick lacks appeal; far from it. That it is barely recognisable from that 1969 model is both a sign of the times and a boon. For starters, even if we discount the e-book, there are four distinct versions: hardback, softback, condensed (scorecard-free) and large print. Coverage of the game beyond Blighty (and men) has never been so extensive. It is a further measure of changing priorities that Norman Preston's 1969 editor's notes opened with a few cheers for the growing positivity of county cricket, a sniffy dismissal of calls for six-day Tests, and a couple of sections on county imports. Only later does he deign to submit a skimpy two paragraphs on the D'Oliveira Affair. Nowhere does he address its ramifications.

The greatest service to cricketkind and even humankind provided by Lawrence Booth, Preston's latest, worldlier, successor, is his inception of a Hall of Infamy: a list of the 27 players banned in connection with match- and spot-fixing, an initiative urged by this column some moons ago and a welcome addition to the better-late-than-never pantheon. It also makes swallowing Salman Butt's latest plea to the Pakistan Cricket Board all the more arduous.

"It's good that the chairman is making efforts to revive the international career of Mohammad Amir, but he should also do it for others," proposed Butt last week. "When the ban is up, everyone should get an equal opportunity. I am not demanding anything extra." Whether he sincerely believes this is open to question.

Let's remind ourselves of the sorry context. Prior to that fateful Lord's Test in 2010, Butt, as captain, agreed not only to talk turkey with a crooked agent and his pals but to involve his key bowlers, Mohammads Amir and Asif, in the resulting scam. Even if the spot-fixing on this occasion was a test of commitment rather than a bonafide betting sting, the willingness to despoil the game, corrupt others and swindle the audience remains breathtaking in its audacity. Only Amir engendered compassion and sympathy: at 18, he was greeted as an innocent enmeshed in something into which he had naively allowed himself to be lured. Like Butt and Asif as well as Mervyn Westfield, the young Essex quickie found guilty of a similar betrayal, he did time behind bars.

There is some moral equivalence between what Butt did and what Amir and Asif did, but they're still poles apart. That all three will ultimately serve the same suspension already feels scandalously unjust

In Lausanne a year ago this week, Butt and Asif's appeals against the length of their bans (ten and seven years respectively, though neither will serve more than five) were roundly rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Asif, it noted, had contested the ICC verdict "mainly on procedural grounds" while Butt "did not contest the liability findings". Amir, by contrast, did not appeal. While Butt and Asif have sought to wriggle their way out of (arguably mild) punishment, Amir accepted his.

Let's not mince words. As the ringleader, Butt occupies the same uppermost rung of the ladder of sporting villainy as another erstwhile leader of cricketers, H***** C*****. Yes, in plotting the game's first significant spot-fixing coup, the latter - or so we were told - was even more unscrupulous, press-ganging his two most vulnerable players: an ageing black fast bowler on debut (Henry Williams) and a young, headstrong coloured batsman (Herschelle Gibbs). True, Williams claimed last year that he and Gibbs had been persuaded by their learned "friends" to concoct testimony to the King Commission that would "nail" his captain, muddying the waters somewhat. On that basis, Butt abused his position even more grievously.

Yet even though the third of his appeals did not seek to overturn the original judgement, it was not until two months after that CAS ruling that Butt, having resisted so stoutly and shamelessly, finally tendered a public apology. As many have observed with all due scepticism, it was far from clear whether he was sorry for what he did or simply that he had been caught.

However, instead of bowing his head, Butt talks longest and loudest of resuming his international career. In this he has been encouraged, admittedly, by Dave Richardson's surprising and seemingly irresponsible revelation that the ICC's impending revised anti-corruption code might ease the "reintegration" of offenders, even to the extent of allowing them to resume playing at domestic level so that they are in a position to return to the game's loftiest stages as soon as their banishment expires.

For the governing body to sanction such a benign change of heart in Amir's case would be one thing; to do so in Butt's case would be both astonishing and self-defeating. The implicit message would be plain: rest assured, chaps - you can start plying your trade again before you've served your time. Can you imagine that constituting a robust deterrent to those contemplating malfeasance? Yet Richardson was adamant: any such revision would apply to all.

There is some moral equivalence between what Butt did and what Amir and Asif did, but they're still poles apart, hence the original length of those bans. That all three will ultimately serve the same suspension already feels scandalously unjust. As captain, Butt was responsible not just for his own conduct but that of his team. Nor could he easily be questioned or disobeyed, especially not by a teenager.

"I said it before and am saying again, that to all those who have been disappointed by my actions I do apologise for them," said Butt last June. "Also, the [negative] effect it had on cricket's integrity, I would like to apologise for that. I want to insist, to all those playing and wanting to play cricket, they must stay away from such wrongdoings because it negatively [affects] them and the game of cricket."

As mea culpas go, this struck me as only marginally less hollow than the 32-second apology proffered in the House of Commons by Maria Miller, who despite the loyal defensive wall erected by her prime minister, David Cameron, was forced to resign as the English culture secretary earlier this month in the wake of revelations about expenses-fiddling. At the heart of both cases lie abuse of power and trust, not to mention the thoroughly modern crime of failing to anticipate public reaction.

Even allowing for the fact that English is not his first language, it was hardly a case of Butt repeating himself: this was his first public confession. His use of "disappointed", moreover, may possibly be the most flagrant example of understatement in a cricketing context since Ricky Ponting deployed the selfsame word to describe his feelings after Gary Pratt made him look a prat. As with Miller, the level of remorse was pitiful.

What galls all the more is that Butt appears to think that redemption will be his merely by dint of insisting, via the media, that players should refrain from such "wrongdoing". How will he communicate this in person? Will he undertake a nationwide school tour, presenting himself as the captain of the national team, who, at a low ebb for his nation's international credibility, was prepared to stoop so low in pursuit of indefensibly gotten gains? Or volunteer his services to the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit? If he is contemplating either, why not tell us? In not even acknowledging that he needs to do a great deal more to regain the trust of team-mates, employers and sponsors - much less that of the paying public - he comes across as a charlatan, a Machiavellian macho man interested solely in furthering his career.

If only he would take a leaf out of Westfield's book. In a video released by the Professional Cricketers' Association last September, having served a four-month sentence in Belmarsh prison, the youngster insisted he was not seeking sympathy. "I'm not trying to tell people to feel sorry for me… because what I've done is bad but not being able to play or coach any cricket is a massive shock for me. I just want to rebuild my life and try and get back on track. If I can give back to anyone - kids, older people, it doesn't matter to me - as long as I can give something back."

Giving something back appears to be the last thing on Butt's mind. Unless that changes, and demonstrably so, he should never darken the game's doors again.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton. His latest book is Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • keptalittlelow on April 17, 2014, 10:31 GMT

    I am a Pakistani fan, my heart bleeds for the trio and yet I fully agree with Rob. I support the view that all three cheats should be banned for life, talent or no talent there are superior values in life than Cricket.

  • on April 17, 2014, 10:00 GMT

    Butt should serve the full 10 years of his ban.

  • disco_bob on April 17, 2014, 1:55 GMT

    @Mansoor Ahmad, punning title is irrelevant to the facts which for the first time I have seen unequivocally and plainly presented. I'm on the fence about Asif but it's clear that Butt should be banned for life. At the very least it would have been appropriate for Butt to have had his original suspended ban removed so that he served the full 10 years after his final appeal.

  • on April 17, 2014, 0:56 GMT

    I 100% agree with the MAK123, all three should be banned for life. They have brought the shame to there team mates, and all the fans of Pakistan. Forget about Salman and Asif, if Aamir is old enough to represent Pakistan team he is old enough to be banned. All three should be the lesson to rest. Is Pakistan is short of talent?

  • Nerk on April 17, 2014, 0:55 GMT

    This trio cheated, they were caught, they were punished. They still have not served their time, but once they do they should play again. However, a cloud will hang over their heads. They certainly should never play for their nation again. For the sake of money they were prepared to betray their country. How can they play for their country again?

  • on April 16, 2014, 23:30 GMT

    Time served! If you're good enough play your 'game'. It is a sport and spectators come to see performances from these players. Let us keep the politics of the game on the side. If they are good enough let them show it in the field and people will judge as for the rest their sentences were too harsh. However once served or commuted they should judged as athletes based on their game.

  • on April 16, 2014, 23:23 GMT

    At the end of the day it is a game! If he has served time for what he did then why not? If he is good enough to play then play he should. In the ground spectators want a good game and best men playing. mind you they get paid huge sums of money for on field stuff. I for one think that Muhammad Amir's sentence was too harsh. none the less you pay what you did and move on... let them be judged on how good a players they are now and show their skill spectators will come and enjoy what it is 'a game'.

  • on April 16, 2014, 23:18 GMT

    sure Butt and asif never deserev a chance even after serving their 5 years sentences while amir should be give another chance because he was just 17 at that time.

  • on April 16, 2014, 22:27 GMT

    I think Amir can be forgiven considering his age at the time. I very much doubt he was the ringleader and probably felt he had no choice. That doesn't mean he shouldn't have been punished (and he certainly has been punished severely), but he was the least guilty of the three IMO.

    Amir was one hell of a talent, and I'd love to see him bowl again at international level. He's been punished enough. I mean, he even served prison time, which isn't pleasant at the best of times, but as a teenager in a foreign country it must have been hell.

    The others? Would rather not see them back.

  • shillingsworth on April 16, 2014, 21:31 GMT

    I bought tickets for the infamous Lord's test and felt conned by these cheats. If any of them return to test cricket, I won't make the same mistake again. In normal life, anyone stealing from their employer rarely gets their old job back, yet Butt has somehow avoided the life ban he so richly deserved. Time for him to show a bit more gratitude.

  • keptalittlelow on April 17, 2014, 10:31 GMT

    I am a Pakistani fan, my heart bleeds for the trio and yet I fully agree with Rob. I support the view that all three cheats should be banned for life, talent or no talent there are superior values in life than Cricket.

  • on April 17, 2014, 10:00 GMT

    Butt should serve the full 10 years of his ban.

  • disco_bob on April 17, 2014, 1:55 GMT

    @Mansoor Ahmad, punning title is irrelevant to the facts which for the first time I have seen unequivocally and plainly presented. I'm on the fence about Asif but it's clear that Butt should be banned for life. At the very least it would have been appropriate for Butt to have had his original suspended ban removed so that he served the full 10 years after his final appeal.

  • on April 17, 2014, 0:56 GMT

    I 100% agree with the MAK123, all three should be banned for life. They have brought the shame to there team mates, and all the fans of Pakistan. Forget about Salman and Asif, if Aamir is old enough to represent Pakistan team he is old enough to be banned. All three should be the lesson to rest. Is Pakistan is short of talent?

  • Nerk on April 17, 2014, 0:55 GMT

    This trio cheated, they were caught, they were punished. They still have not served their time, but once they do they should play again. However, a cloud will hang over their heads. They certainly should never play for their nation again. For the sake of money they were prepared to betray their country. How can they play for their country again?

  • on April 16, 2014, 23:30 GMT

    Time served! If you're good enough play your 'game'. It is a sport and spectators come to see performances from these players. Let us keep the politics of the game on the side. If they are good enough let them show it in the field and people will judge as for the rest their sentences were too harsh. However once served or commuted they should judged as athletes based on their game.

  • on April 16, 2014, 23:23 GMT

    At the end of the day it is a game! If he has served time for what he did then why not? If he is good enough to play then play he should. In the ground spectators want a good game and best men playing. mind you they get paid huge sums of money for on field stuff. I for one think that Muhammad Amir's sentence was too harsh. none the less you pay what you did and move on... let them be judged on how good a players they are now and show their skill spectators will come and enjoy what it is 'a game'.

  • on April 16, 2014, 23:18 GMT

    sure Butt and asif never deserev a chance even after serving their 5 years sentences while amir should be give another chance because he was just 17 at that time.

  • on April 16, 2014, 22:27 GMT

    I think Amir can be forgiven considering his age at the time. I very much doubt he was the ringleader and probably felt he had no choice. That doesn't mean he shouldn't have been punished (and he certainly has been punished severely), but he was the least guilty of the three IMO.

    Amir was one hell of a talent, and I'd love to see him bowl again at international level. He's been punished enough. I mean, he even served prison time, which isn't pleasant at the best of times, but as a teenager in a foreign country it must have been hell.

    The others? Would rather not see them back.

  • shillingsworth on April 16, 2014, 21:31 GMT

    I bought tickets for the infamous Lord's test and felt conned by these cheats. If any of them return to test cricket, I won't make the same mistake again. In normal life, anyone stealing from their employer rarely gets their old job back, yet Butt has somehow avoided the life ban he so richly deserved. Time for him to show a bit more gratitude.

  • FSL2013 on April 16, 2014, 20:45 GMT

    Great article Rob. Thumbs up to you.

  • kickassPakistan on April 16, 2014, 20:25 GMT

    I think there is clear consensus in Pakistan across the board that we don't want to see Butt and Asif play again for the country ever again however Amir represents a dilemma for us due to his age and his talent but to put things right in Pakistan once for all in my personal opinion even he should not be allowed ever to come back in Pakistan team.

  • fayyaz03 on April 16, 2014, 19:13 GMT

    After the ten years of his ban, he will be around 36 years old. Thus he will not be selected. And if selected, he won't be able to perform, and if somehow he perform, he will have only two years of career. So he better start searching a new job and stay away from cricket.

  • Y2SJ on April 16, 2014, 18:31 GMT

    He and Asif should have been banned for life. They got away lightly

  • on April 16, 2014, 18:05 GMT

    i dont agree with most of peoples posting. once the ban is served they have the right to play as a normal player.

  • on April 16, 2014, 13:49 GMT

    That is not the first time i saw a whole article written solely for its title. Sad and true.

  • Rexton87 on April 16, 2014, 9:25 GMT

    I feel the long ban was too harsh on players for a dubious crime. The media revelled in dragging thier names through the mud simply as they belonged to Pakistan team. Sentence served , it is time to move on everyone has the right to put thier lives back on track. I salute his resolute courage to stand

  • on April 16, 2014, 9:16 GMT

    He doesn't deserve any leniency

  • JohnnyRook on April 16, 2014, 8:48 GMT

    I have a contra opinion here. I hate the fact that Amir and Butt both were given 5 years each (Different suspended sentences don't matter). Being the captain and the ringleader, Butt deserved to get a life ban. Plain and simple.

    However the fact is they both have been punished for 5 years, like it or not. Now neither of them should be shown any leniency whatsoever and punishment shouldn't be reduced even by a day. At the same time, they both should be allowed to play after the sentence is over. If we all start harping about our own moral code of conduct we are in for a lawless society. Best is to follow the letter of the law immaterial of whether we agree with it or not.

  • on April 16, 2014, 8:15 GMT

    Muhammad Amir is an exceptional case and I believe everyone even in ICC has sympathy with him. But for Salman Butt and Muhammad Asif; it will be hard for them to find space in any good First Class team due to their morals. Representing Pakistan - Forget it! Representing Pakistan is not a right... It is an honor and both have lost it.

  • on April 16, 2014, 8:15 GMT

    Bang on target about Butt. It would be a shame if any of the trio is allowed to play again, even Aamir.

  • on April 16, 2014, 7:53 GMT

    Butt and Asif should not play again for Pakistan. Otherwise it will give wring signal to others. They have done something wrong and they have to pay for it.

  • on April 16, 2014, 7:22 GMT

    In my view I strongly believe that Butt and Asif should be banned for life and they should not be allowed to play again for the rest of their life.They brought disgarce and shame for Pakistan and di it for money when they are already rich.Aamir was a bit younger and still very useful so his case may be treated differently.But these two should dealt with severly.

  • MAK123 on April 16, 2014, 7:10 GMT

    I agree with the bans on the trio and feel that it would be shameful on part of ICC and the PCB to allow any of the three i.e., Amir, Butt or Asif back into the mainstream. They are banned and they should never be allowed back.

  • on April 16, 2014, 3:59 GMT

    I agree with Rob. Butt has the audacity to think that he deserves a chance to come back. Out of Butt, Asif and Aamir, I strongly feel that Aamir is the only one who deserves a second chance because of his age and how naïve a person can be at that age. Also out of the trio, Aamir is the only one who pleaded guilty, the other two kept on denying all the way till the end, they had the audacity to go to arbitration to get the decision turned in their favor. Butt or Asif should never be allowed to play again, it is time for them to think of some other career option.

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  • on April 16, 2014, 3:59 GMT

    I agree with Rob. Butt has the audacity to think that he deserves a chance to come back. Out of Butt, Asif and Aamir, I strongly feel that Aamir is the only one who deserves a second chance because of his age and how naïve a person can be at that age. Also out of the trio, Aamir is the only one who pleaded guilty, the other two kept on denying all the way till the end, they had the audacity to go to arbitration to get the decision turned in their favor. Butt or Asif should never be allowed to play again, it is time for them to think of some other career option.

  • MAK123 on April 16, 2014, 7:10 GMT

    I agree with the bans on the trio and feel that it would be shameful on part of ICC and the PCB to allow any of the three i.e., Amir, Butt or Asif back into the mainstream. They are banned and they should never be allowed back.

  • on April 16, 2014, 7:22 GMT

    In my view I strongly believe that Butt and Asif should be banned for life and they should not be allowed to play again for the rest of their life.They brought disgarce and shame for Pakistan and di it for money when they are already rich.Aamir was a bit younger and still very useful so his case may be treated differently.But these two should dealt with severly.

  • on April 16, 2014, 7:53 GMT

    Butt and Asif should not play again for Pakistan. Otherwise it will give wring signal to others. They have done something wrong and they have to pay for it.

  • on April 16, 2014, 8:15 GMT

    Bang on target about Butt. It would be a shame if any of the trio is allowed to play again, even Aamir.

  • on April 16, 2014, 8:15 GMT

    Muhammad Amir is an exceptional case and I believe everyone even in ICC has sympathy with him. But for Salman Butt and Muhammad Asif; it will be hard for them to find space in any good First Class team due to their morals. Representing Pakistan - Forget it! Representing Pakistan is not a right... It is an honor and both have lost it.

  • JohnnyRook on April 16, 2014, 8:48 GMT

    I have a contra opinion here. I hate the fact that Amir and Butt both were given 5 years each (Different suspended sentences don't matter). Being the captain and the ringleader, Butt deserved to get a life ban. Plain and simple.

    However the fact is they both have been punished for 5 years, like it or not. Now neither of them should be shown any leniency whatsoever and punishment shouldn't be reduced even by a day. At the same time, they both should be allowed to play after the sentence is over. If we all start harping about our own moral code of conduct we are in for a lawless society. Best is to follow the letter of the law immaterial of whether we agree with it or not.

  • on April 16, 2014, 9:16 GMT

    He doesn't deserve any leniency

  • Rexton87 on April 16, 2014, 9:25 GMT

    I feel the long ban was too harsh on players for a dubious crime. The media revelled in dragging thier names through the mud simply as they belonged to Pakistan team. Sentence served , it is time to move on everyone has the right to put thier lives back on track. I salute his resolute courage to stand

  • on April 16, 2014, 13:49 GMT

    That is not the first time i saw a whole article written solely for its title. Sad and true.