Pakistan's selectors have come up with a plan to reintegrate Salman Butt into the national side. They are impressed with his domestic form since his return from his spot-fixing ban, and will look to pick him in the Pakistan A team to assess his case for a full international return. A similar scheme was shelved earlier this year in light of the PSL spot-fixing controversy.
"He is playing very well after his comeback and we are considering him," Inzamam-ul-Haq, the PCB's chief selector, said in a press conference on Saturday. "He was there in our high-performance camp and he 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 and we have a plan. We are not selecting him directly in the international circuit but we are trying to have him play in the A team first and then we will take it from there."
Butt, 32, returned to domestic cricket in January 2016, after serving a five-year ban for his role in the spot-fixing scandal in England in 2010. He scored a century in his comeback game in the National One-Day Cup, and went on to finish the tournament as its second-highest run-getter, with 536 runs at an average of 107.20.
He then led his first-class team, Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), to the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, scoring twin hundreds in the final to finish the season with 741 runs at 49.40. He was also the second-highest run-getter in the National T20 Cup last year, with 350 at 70.00.
Butt was 26 when he was banned, having played 33 Tests, 78 ODIs and 24 T20Is. Since then, he has attended anti-corruption rehabilitation programmes conducted by the PCB, taken part in social work, and publicly apologised, though he had pleaded his innocence until 2013. The two other players punished at the time, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, have also returned to cricket after completing their bans. Amir has been successfully re-integrated into the national set-up, and has set a precedent of sorts for any more returns.
Over the last two years, Butt's selection had been mooted on few occasions, but the board has waited to weigh all its options before giving its go-ahead. His consistent domestic performances impressed Pakistan's previous head coach Waqar Younis and former captain Misbah-ul-Haq, and the lack of stability in the opening position ensured the topic of his return remained relevant. The current coaching staff led by Mickey Arthur have also been impressed with Butt as a player but have left it to the selectors and the board to decide.
Butt could have returned to the Pakistan squad as early as their tour of the West Indies in March-May 2017, with the then PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan publicly clearing his possible selection. But the revelations of spot fixing in the PSL - though Butt had no connection to it - created an adverse climate for his return, forcing the selectors to wait a little longer.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent