As Navjot Sidhu used to say “If anyone wanted to be a hero, an India Vs Pak match was THE game to earn a name for yourself.” Every time India played Pakistan this year, such has been the quality of cricket that a young man makes his name for himself and his country. If it was Irfan Pathan and Laxmipathy Balaji with their youthful zeal when India toured Pakistan, Shoaib Malik in the Asia Cup with his mercurial century, Rana Naveed’s emergence at Birmingham, this time the young batsman who has etched a name for himself in the recent India-Pak cricketing history is Salman Butt at Kolkata. Salman has been often described by pundits as someone who has the three important T’s of International cricket – Talent, Technique and Temperament, which can be hailed as the factors responsible for him being one of Pakistan’s future stars.
The 20-year old Salman from Lahore has been one of those Pakistani players, who has come through all the grades. His first major national appearance for Pakistan came in the Under-17s and the Under-19s levels which are often considered as “schools of international cricket”. Salman Butt made his debut for Lahore Whites against Lahore Blues at the Lahore City Cricket Association Ground in 2000 at the tender age of 16. Although his batting fetched only 14 runs in his maiden knock, the natural talent (which is something common in Pakistan) of the man really impressed everyone and was immediately awarded a place in the Pakistan A team that hosted England in a tour game. Despite his transformation from the junior levels to the first class level, one can think of few others who have gone back to the “schools” when they played higher levels, but Salman is one of those who never missed an Under 19 or Under-17 match for both his country and region (Lahore Whites). He was one of those youngsters that the Pakistanis could not choose to ignore as he kept amassing runs, and huge runs for his region. He is supposed to have a good overall technique, with a decent defence. Understandably, as an opening batsman, the talented left-hander prefers playing the hard new ball to the one that grips and turns. One cannot call him a “heavy” run-maker, but yes, a season in which he amassed 875 runs for Lahore was good enough to earn him a national call-up in the year 2003.
Salman’s first international senior appearance for Pakistan came in a Test match against minnows Bangladesh at the Arbab Niaz Stadium at Peshawar, in a match that Pakistan scraped through thanks to Inzamam’s knock of 138. Salman made 55 runs in the game, but was not considered for future matches as the selectors preferred Taufiq Umar and Imran Farhat to him. But as any youngster would do, Salman Butt went back to the domestic arena and played for Pakistan A, before he earned a recall for the Champions Trophy in 2004. A major reason for that selection was the form he showed in the triangular series in Kenya, where he played for Pakistan A. He made his ODI debut against West Indies, but he got out in the very second ball of the innings and any average Pakistani fan would have written him off. But so much was the talent in this youngster that both Bob Woolmer and Inzamam Ul-Haq expressed full faith in it and it has indeed paid off.
Salman’s first international fifty came against Sri Lanka at Rawalpindi when he made an aggressive 57 in the recent Paktel Cup. But the big one, that has captured the hearts of not only Pakistani fans, but cricket fans in general was the superb, classy century he made against the Indians at the Eden Gardens at Kolkata. It was very refreshing to see a youngster step up on the biggest stage in International cricket and perform. He fought cramps and other fitness problems and yet played one of the best knocks an India-Pakistan match has seen in recent years. What was the best part of his innings of 108* was the fact that he stood there till the end, and finished the job for Pakistan, instead of handing over the duties to someone else. It is this gutsy effort that has made Salman Butt a hero by itself in Pakistan. If anything, one feels that the baton has been finally passed by Saeed Anwar to yet another Punjabi who could make a big name for himself in International cricket. Its good to see Pakistan have some competition among the openers like Yasir Hameed, Imran Farhat, Taufeeq Umer and Salman Butt. Salman might have just booked his place in the side with this match-winning effort, and it will be left to see who among the other three can be his able partner-in-crime (opening partner).
Pakistan have been fortunate that they are blessed with talents that can make it big in the international arena. The interesting thing is that Salman Butt has not played any tests after his debut at Peshawar, and this innings of 108 should be a stern reminder to the selectors that apart from being a good one-day player, Salman can be worth many in Test Matches too. Although he has been untested against some quality bowling, it will be left to see how he plays the Australian bowlers in Australia during their upcoming tour. One hopes that Salman Butt doesn’t turn out to be a typical Pakistani player, someone who is naturally gifted with immense talent yet does not fulfill it to the best of his abilities. At least for now Salman Butt will play a crucial part in the gradual development of the Pakistani team as a major force to reckon with.
We at Cricketfundas.com would like to wish the talented left hander from Punjab good luck for all his matches for Pakistan, and hope that he would be one of the many talents Asian cricket has been churning out regularly.
By the end of his first Ranji Season, he had got 18 wickets in just 4 games. If that was good, wait till you hear more about this guy – his next season saw 32 wickets from 8games, which included his best bowling up to date of 6/14 against Services, a dream spell in which he crippled the Services batsmen with some sublime bowling. His figures meant that he was ever stingy with the runs and picked up wickets every second over.