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08 December 2023

Ton-up Salman Butt, Asif in winning return after 'fixing' ban


Pakistan's former skipper Salman Butt smashed a century while left-armer Mohammad Asif picked up two wickets in their victorious joint return to domestic cricket on Sunday, months after they completed five-year bans for spot-fixing.

The duo, along with Mohammad Amir, were banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for their roles in a complex betting scam in a test against England in 2010 that involved the bowling of deliberate no-balls.

The three players and their agent Mazhar Majeed were later jailed in Britain.

The ICC lifted the sanctions on the pair in September, making them eligible for national and international matches.

Amir, whose ban was relaxed in April 2015, boarded a plane on Sunday to New Zealand after he was included in Pakistan's one-day and Twenty20 squads.

Butt and Asif meanwhile travelled to Hyderabad to play for Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) against the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the domestic one-day league.

Butt, seen as a competent one-day batsman before his ban, showed signs of his past talents with a fluid, drive-laden 135 off 143 balls including 14 boundaries to lead his team to 278-7 in 50 overs.

Tall Asif, whose wily, accurate swing together with bounce made him one of the world's best bowlers before his suspension, finished with 2-22 from six testing overs, helping to shoot out the opposition for 136 and ensure a romping 142-run victory.

Former captain Butt, 31, said he would remember his comeback innings.

"A hundred on return is something I will remember and I am satisfied with my batting and will hope to continue the same form in the remaining matches."

He also thanked retired players including current coach Waqar Younis for his support and credited batting legend Mohammed Yousuf with helping him with his technique in the nets.

Earlier he had described the match as a "rebirth" and expressed his desire to return to Pakistan colours.

He added that the return of Amir would boost Pakistan's chances on their New Zealand tour, where they play three Twenty20 and as many one-day internationals.

"Without doubt, Amir's return will strengthen Pakistan's bowling and competition will grow in the bowling contingent and others' performances will also get better, so I wish him the best."

Asif, meanwhile, said he had overcome a difficult period in his life.

"The last five years were the toughest for me and for my family but I am happy that that period is over now and I am back on the field," the 33-year-old said.

"I have been training for the last five years. We both were in the team for the four-day tournament prior to the one-day matches but we were not allowed to play so I have been bowling in the nets," he added.

Both of Asif's victims were top order batsmen - the first caught behind to a swinging delivery and the second given LBW to a ball that kept straight.

The Pakistan Cricket Board had said both Asif and Butt will have to complete their rehabilitation and perform to a high standard before harbouring any hopes of returning to international cricket.

WAPDA coach Amjad Siddiq praised the two, saying he believed they would only get better.

"Butt was slightly nervous in the morning but he batted solidly," said Siddiq. "Asif is mentally strong so he didn't take time and I feel both will progress with every match."