In-form Butt hopeful of second chance
Pakistan batsman Salman Butt isn't quite sure if he will be considered for national selection just yet despite a sparkling show in the National T20 Cup, but hopes to keep knocking on the doors by the sheer weight of his performances.
Butt, 31, marked his return from a five-year spot-fixing ban in September 2015 by scoring 536 at an average of 107 in National One-Day Cup last year. In the subsequent ODI tournament in April-May 2016, he managed just 135 runs in five innings. In the shortest format he hit form again, finishing the National T20 Cup as the second-highest run-getter with 350 runs in eight innings.
"Since my comeback, every time I've done well, it has given me a good feeling," Butt, who is set to return to first-class cricket in October, told ESPNcricinfo. "I want to carry on with these performances till I get selected, that is the ultimate goal. I don't know if the board really want me or not, but I have two good performances. Sometimes, if the team is playing well, you can't be fitted in, so unless someone has a bad run or if the team needs to strengthen a specific area, it will be tough. Let's see which door opens for me, but my job is to keep fit and keep scoring runs."
Butt was 26 when he was banned in August 2010. Until then, he had played 33 Tests, 78 ODIs and 24 T20Is. Given the game has moved forward significantly following a number of tweaks to the limited-overs rules, Butt's style of batting and his strike rate could come into question should he be considered for selection at some stage. However, Butt insisted that he had the capability to adapt.
"Tests and ODIs are the two formats I can walk into, but it won't be difficult for me to chip in with the T20 format as well," he said. "I have the experience. This was my first competitive T20 tournament after six years, and I still managed a decent strike rate of 140 in the last three games. Sometimes it is tough to maintain your strike rate because when you see four batsmen getting out in eight deliveries, you have to hold yourself back.
"I know they are a lot of people talking about my strike rate from my last game [he made a run-a-ball 55], but situation and understanding of the game is one thing and typing on social media is something else. I understand the game better than I had before."
In the time he spent away from the game, Butt has attended anti-corruption rehabilitation programmes conducted by the PCB, taken part in social work and has also issued a public apology, which was key for the reduction in his suspension - he was banned for 10, but returned after five. The reduction came on the condition that Butt would commit no further breaches of the anti-corruption code and participate in educational programmes on corruption.
While reluctant to talk about his past, Butt insisted that he wanted to make the most of the second chance offered to him. "There are two ways to live: either keep thinking about the past or look forward and move on. In my best interest, I've chosen to move on," he said. "Obviously I've taken the good things from the past and eliminated the bad ones. The difference in me is for people to see. No matter what I say or do, it won't make much of a difference, but my actions would speak and people can form their opinions based on that."
Butt insisted the knowledge of modern-day fitness requirements helped him prepare and stay in shape during his time away. "I was training at a private facility," he said. "I knew the kind of fitness levels required and maintained myself accordingly. Having played international cricket, I knew the kind of work ethic needed to get me back. You can't instill passion, that has remained."
Butt, who will turn 32 next month, hopes to draw inspiration from Test captain Mibah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. "A batsman matures in his 30s," he said. "There are very few naturally-gifted players in their 20s. We have Misbah and Younis. If you look at Australia, they bring in their batsman in their late 20s or early 30s. So it's about fitness. There's no set of rules that states if you are touching 40, then it's over.
"Misbah has proved to everyone through his dedication and fitness that you can fight on at that age. If you keep working hard, then your body responds in a certain way, so it's about being committed, like Misbah has shown."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson