Pakistan news August 20, 2015

Butt, Asif keen to return to cricket

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'Focus is simply on scoring runs' - Salman Butt

Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, who will find themselves free of ICC sanctions from September 2, are keen to play in the forthcoming Pakistan domestic season under the auspices of the Pakistan Cricket Board. The pair said they had learnt their lessons from the imprisonment and bans they had faced for their roles in a spot-fixing scandal in 2010.

Butt and Asif, along with Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Amir, were banned by the ICC for their role in spot-fixing on Pakistan's tour to England in 2010. While Butt faced a 10-year ban (with five years suspended), Asif was given a seven-year ban (with two years suspended) after they were found guilty in a case stemming from the 2010 Lord's Test. The ICC confirmed on Wednesday that the players can return to competitive cricket after September 2, after fulfilling specific conditions laid down by the independent Anti-Corruption Tribunal.

According to the conditions of the tribunal, the players were required to submit a public apology and cooperate with the tribunal. In addition, they also have to undergo a lecture on anti-corruption, which will take place in due course. Both Butt and Asif had earlier apologised publicly and have committed their availability for the remainder of the process.

"I am a relieved man," said Asif, who will turn 33 in December. "People should accept the fact that we have completed our punishment, relieved by the same body that banned us. So you can't give more punishment for one crime. I committed a mistake, for which I have asked for forgiveness from the Almighty and have also said sorry to the nation."

Butt, who was the captain of the Pakistan side in the Lord's Test in 2010, said the time away from cricket had an impact on his personality and helped him learn a lot. He has been engaged by Lahore Blues in the forthcoming domestic Twenty20 tournament, which starts in the first week of September, while Asif is also negotiating with teams in the same region to kick-start his career. Amir, who was readmitted to Pakistan's domestic cricket in January this year, is also likely to play in the T20 tournament.

Over the last five years, Butt has been training at a private fitness club and playing cricket at a private cricket academy, while Asif has occasionally played in unregistered cricket tournaments in Lahore.

"Thanks to the Almighty who has given me another lifeline and I got another opportunity to make a comeback (in cricket). I am also thankful to the ICC that it gave me an opportunity to start again," Butt said. "The PCB has also cooperated with me for quite some time and I am thankful to them too.

"The moment I get permission to play domestic cricket, I will play. It's true that if you don't play competitive cricket for sometime you get rusty but with few matches it will go too. But it depends how much the player is committed. I think if you look at me personally there's quite a change in me. In last five years the only thing I did most is thinking. It's impossible to get back the best part of my life, which was wasted, but I have learnt a lot in those years. Only time will tell how much I have changed. I don't know if I will be able to achieve the same peak as a cricketer but what I will ensure is to become a good human being and a good cricketer."

Asif, who hails from Sheikhupura, was also involved in controversies other than the spot-fixing scandal. Along with Shoaib Akhtar, he tested positive for a banned steroid in 2006 and was suspended for one year. He was also detained in Dubai in 2008 for possessing opium and was released later.

When asked if he is prepared for criticism on his return, Asif said: "What if people shout and call me a cheat? I am ready for that because I have taken every tough thing in the last five years on the chin, so let the fans show their anger. I have made a resolution: to change people's opinions and not to make the same mistake again."

Butt's likely stint with the Lahore Blues side is pending clearance from the PCB but a top official from the region was happy with the signing.

"We have a full faith in Butt after he has served his punishment. He is one of the good batsmen in our region and if he is fit and cleared by the ICC then I don't see any reason not picking him for our team," the official said.

The PCB, in a release, said it had sought further clarification from the ICC on the lifting of sanctions against Butt and Asif. "Until the world body's response has been received and evaluated, PCB shall not be making any further comment on the issue," the release stated

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson

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