Asif to captain Sialkot Region team in grade-2 competition
Pakistani fast bowler Mohammad Asif, who completed a five-year suspension for spot-fixing in September last year, will captain the Sialkot Region team in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy grade-2 tournament, which starts from Saturday in Bahawalpur. Asif's contract with the grade-1 side, Water and Power Development Authority [WAPDA], is unaffected and he has been released to lead his regional side in the event.
Asif was one of three Pakistan players to be given a ban for their role in spot-fixing during Pakistan's tour to England in 2010; Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir were the other two players. After their suspensions ended in September last year, Butt and Asif were signed on as non-executive, 17th grade employees by WAPDA. The pair made their return to competitive cricket in the National One-Day Cup earlier this year.
Asif was born in Sheikhupura, a small town which lies to the north-west of Lahore but was later merged with Sialkot. The team was relegated to grade-2 after they finished at the bottom of the Quaid-e-Azam Silver League in 2014-15 with six points. If they finish the grade-2 competition as one of the top two teams, they will gain direct entry into the qualifying round of the grade-1 competition.
"Since he was cleared by the ICC and the PCB so we have decided to play him," Nauman Butt, Sialkot Region president told ESPNcricinfo. "It was my request to him to play as captain and players like (Abdur) Rehman, Bilawal Bhatti are going to play under him. None of the players have any problem with our decision and they are all like family members. He is the senior-most player in the team and enjoying the respect that a captain requires from a team-mate.
"His behavior has been exemplary during the camp with all the youngsters and I am satisfied with his attitude. I have spoken with every player and they have confirmed that they have no problem at all. What happened was past and he served his punishment and got all the NOCs from the governing body and he recently played the National One-Day Cup as well."
Asif, 33, was banned for seven years (two years suspended) for bowling a deliberate no-ball during the 2010 Lord's Test against England. The two-year suspension was on the conditions that the player would issue a public apology, show remorse, cooperate with the anti-corruption unit, commit no further breaches and participate in an anti-corruption education programme under the auspices of the PCB.
The grade-2 competition will be the second major tournament Asif will feature in this year. In January, he played seven games for WAPDA in the National One-Day Cup, taking seven wickets at 27.00. Butt, meanwhile, finished the tournament as the second-highest run-getter with 536 runs in seven games, including a century and four fifties. Both players were registered for the Caribbean Premier League 2016 draft, but were not picked by any franchise.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson