Another day, another ethical dilemma. Salman Butt, the former Pakistan batsman who was sent to prison and banned from cricket for 10 years for his part in the spot-fixing scandal of 2010, is reported to be seeking a new career as a match referee.
At face value, it does appear to be one of those stories you couldn’t make up. But if it’s not entirely made up, it does seem to have been given a good lick of journalistic licence and a smack into the long grass of mischief at deep square leg, at least from our investigations.
The original report, in the Pakistan News, claimed that Butt is “on a mission to be a match referee” after becoming one of 49 cricketers to take part in a level-one umpiring and officials course initiated by the Pakistan Cricket Board. The governing body’s aim is to increase employment opportunities for former players and, in total, 350 people have signed up.
The news has been repeated in many outlets around South Asia, yet not one of them has included any confirmation from the player himself or any official involved in the course. Additionally, the only reference that Butt himself has made to cricket of late on his personal Twitter account suggests that he has still not given up hope of a return to playing at the highest level.
In that tweet, the 36-year-old, who has 70,000 followers on social media, includes a clip that he claims provides evidence of a “backroom deal” to stop him returning to international cricket. In reality it is more likely his advancing years will see to that – although, of course, Pakistan did recently give a debut to Tabish Khan, a seamer of the same age, in the Test series against Zimbabwe.
But the story does highlight deeper issues in a week when punishment and rehabilitation have been in the news after the emergence of offensive historical tweets among England cricketers.
Butt, who scored 1,889 runs in 33 Tests before his career was cut off in its prime at Lord’s in August 2010, served a 30-month sentence for his part in the scandal – which also cost Mohammed Amir his liberty – and, under British law, his conviction is now “spent”. That, essentially, means that it is illegal in the UK to deny him employment based on previous misdeeds.
Yet, however and contrite and reformed he may be – and as with Ollie Robinson, Craig Overton and others caught up in Tweetgate, only they know what they feel in their hearts – his particular misdeed was played out in the glare of the worldwide media and it is hard to see any national cricket board readily accepting him in any official role.
Giles Clarke, then, can probably rest easy. The former ECB chairman looked with barely disguised contempt at those Pakistan players implicated in the scandal as he handed them their match medals after that infamous Test and it seems unlikely that time will have forgotten enough for us to see Butt presiding over a match at Lord’s any time soon. Especially if Clarke, heaven forbid, were to revive his campaign, one that flopped not so long ago, to become ICC chairman.