Skipper’s career on the line


KARACHI – Salman Butt’s fall from grace came just when Pakistan believed the new captain and stylish opener could lead the embattled team for years to come. Handed the captaincy after Shahid Afridi quit following a one-sided defeat against Australia at Lord’s in July, the 26-year-old Salman took little time in changing the fortunes of the team.
Pakistan defeated Australia in the very next match by four wickets at Leeds – their first win over Test cricket’s best team for 15 years – and hopes of a new era were high. But those hopes were short-lived as a month later several Pakistani players, including Salman, were named in an alleged spot-fixing scandal. Britain’s News of the World claimed that seven Pakistani players, including Salman, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif, took money from Mazhar Majeed to obey orders at specific stages in the Lord’s Test against England. Scotland Yard detectives raided the team hotel, reportedly confiscating a huge amount of money from Salman’s room.
The ICC provisionally suspended the players. For many in the game Salman’s alleged involvement came as a shock, but not for those who knew of his love for expensive watches and luxury cars. After the tour of India in 2007, the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit questioned Salman, Umar Gul and Danish Kaneria and warned them over the pitfalls involved in associating with certain businessmen. Salman’s role again came under question during the team’s surprising defeat in the Sydney Test against Australia in January last year and later in the World Twenty20 held in the West Indies.
“There was no doubt about his huge talent,” said former captain Aamir Sohail, who gave Salman his first chance when chief of selectors in 2003. “Over the years he really improved and was supposed to bring a lot to Pakistan cricket before these unfortunate events unfolded.” Emerging from the streets of Lahore, Salman represented Pakistan at all levels, leading Pakistan to the Asian U-15 title in 1999 and then impressing in the Junior World Cup in 2002.
Salman’s match-winning hundred in a one-day match against India at Calcutta in late 2004 set his career on the right track and although he remained in and out, his talent was never in doubt. Under former coach Bob Woolmer, Salman’s career flourished with hundreds at Sydney in January 2005 and another three-figure knock against Ashes-winning England at Multan. Former captain Ramiz Raja, who had always praised Salman’s talents, was furious at seeing the captain caught up in the latest scandal. “I felt he had the potential to play a long innings for Pakistan,” Raja told AFP. “When you pin hopes on someone and he disappoints you then you yell out a scream.” Salman believes he will play for Pakistan again. “I have not done anything wrong. I have always played cricket with passion and I am confident that this is not my end,” said Salman, who is set to learn his fate at the ICC anti-corruption tribunal hearing in Doha by January 11.