Five years have passed since Pakistan cricket was rocked by the worst scandal ever in its history -then Test captain Salman Butt and Pakistan's two premier fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer were accused of spot fixing.
It seems like yesterday when they were handed 5-year bans from the game and jail terms for their role in spot fixing during the summer of 2010. There is some irony in the fact that they are once again eligible to play international cricket when Pakistan is gearing up for a series against England, the same opposition they played against last.
Noise has already been made by all three players about resurrecting their international careers.
Aamer's return is most likely considering that his return-path was paved for him 6 months ago when the ICC allowed him to return to domestic cricket, enabling him to play some competitive cricket before making a fully fledged international return. For Butt and Asif, it will be harder. They haven't played any competitive cricket for 5 years and both players are not as young as Aamer, who at 23 has a full career ahead of him.
I would place my money on them returning. Would be interesting to see what the odds are on betting sites regarding the return of these three cricketers.
Whether they will return to the Pakistan team or not is all together another question. Should they return is the more pertinent question really.
It seems a little unfair that Butt, Aamer, and Asif are now allowed to play international cricket again after disgracing their country and the sport on the international stage, while a player like Danish Kaneria is banned for life for coercing a domestic cricketer to accept money for fixing in a domestic game. What this means is that wrong doing in international cricket can be forgiven, while the same in domestic cricket cannot be? That is a bit perplexing for me.
And what about all the players who have represented Pakistan during the past 5 years with integrity and success? Is it fair for Aamer and Asif to come back into the team at the expense of Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz, Imran Khan, or Rahat Ali? Is it fair for Salman Butt to make a return at the expense of Ahmed Shehzad, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez, Mukhtar Ahmed, Nauman Anwar, Sami Aslam, or Babar Azam? Definitely not.
These are arguments based on moral grounds.
Here's a look at how these three faired in the three formats before their bans, and whether their return is warranted on a statistical basis or not.
The records that stand out are Salman Butt and Mohammad Aamer in ODIs, and Mohammad Asif in Tests. In T20Is, all three had below par figures. While in tests Butt and Aamer were just about average, and likewise for Asif in ODIs.
I can probably shed more light on these three after comparing their figures with those of the players who replaced them in the past 5 years.
In test matches, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, and Taufeeq Umar have all performed far better than Salman Butt ever did in his career. Even Shan Masood, who is just finding his feet in test cricket, seems like a better test opener than Salman Butt.
Azhar Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed have been a revelation at the top for Pakistan, and have performed better than most openers. Even Shehzad has a solid record that is comparable to Salman Butt's.
Salman Butt was never an opener in the T20 mould and Pakistan have far better batsmen to do that job. Shehzad and Mukhtar have both performed better than Butt did, while all the batsmen in the table above, barring Nasir Jamshed, have a better T20 strike rate than Butt's.
It is quite clear from all this that Salman Butt has no place in Pakistan's international team for any format.
On the bowling front, however, the story is a bit different.
In tests, there has been no fast bowler for Pakistan who has performed as well as Asif. Not even one who has done so as well as Aamer either, besides Tanvir Ahmed who appeared for a short time and then fell out of favor for reasons best known to selectors. In fact, besides Tanvir, only Imran Khan averages under 30 among the pacers that have played for Pakistan in the past 5 years since Aamer and Asif got banned.
While there have been several bowlers for Pakistan who have done far better than Asif in ODIs; such as Sohail Khan, Rahat Ali, Aizaz Cheema, Mohammad Irfan, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, and Junaid Khan; there has been not a single one who has performed at the level of Mohammad Aamer.
Pakistan's pace bowling has definitely not been the same during the absence of Aamer and Asif, who together created arguably the best attacking pair Pakistan has had since Wasim and Waqar. It is unfortunate that they played together for less than a year and that their best years were taken away from them due to their own grave mistakes.
Once can only sit and wonder what could have been had these two not succumbed to greed and had continued to share the new ball for Pakistan over the past 5 years.
While statistically there is no argument about whether Aamer and Asif should return to Pakistan's colors; however on moral ground there is still plenty of debate.
On Salman Butt however, there should be no debate. Pakistan has far better resources at the moment to go back to a dead weight like Butt.
Butt might have served his 5-year ban from cricket and his jail term, but the damage he has done to Pakistan cricket deserves more punishment in my opinion. He was the captain of the team when all this drama ensued. That only means that he needs to accept more responsibility than both Aamer and Asif who were in a way coerced by Butt to bowl those no balls. Butt was in control of the bowers on the field. He was the sole decision maker regarding who to throw the ball to. He was the one who ensured that Aamer and Asif bowled those particular overs and the no balls on those specific deliveries. The control was all in Butt's hands. He was critical to the whole spotfix. Without him, it would not have been possible.
Just this fact that it was Butt who enable the whole fix should ensure that he never plays for Pakistan again. Ban or no ban, Salman Butt should never be allowed to don the Pakistan cap.