It is amazing how subsequent events make you look at something/someone you saw in a totally different light. Throughout this summer I had developed a considerable regard for Salman Butt.
I had watched and listened to his press conferences and been mightily impressed by the way he took on a difficult not to say impossible job as Pakistan captain with calm equanimity. He was proud but sensible in triumph and dignified in defeat. He gave reasoned responses to questions about England’s chances in Australia. He sounded assured and persuasive in everything he said.
Now, after all the fixing allegations, I have a different impression of him. Admittedly nothing is ultimately proved yet but there is a lot of incriminating evidence and the England players say his general conduct and comments on the field were often disrespectful (mind you that’s nothing new from a Test match captain!) My mind is particularly drawn to something I saw at Lord’s.
I had got to the ground early on Friday morning sensing it could be Mohammed Amir’s day (there had been just 12 overs play the previous afternoon and England were one down overnight.) I was intending to watch Amir practise and then have a casual chat with him to write a column about him. Except that he didn’t practise. Instead he and three other team members were strolling around the boundary. They weren’t running, but walking and talking, while the rest of the Pakistan team practised elsewhere on the field. Odd. The other players were Mohammed Asif and Salman Butt. When I approached them (as I sometimes do before play) they made it patently clear the conversation was private.
I kept my eye on them, imagining they were talking tactics.The particularly strange thing was they circuited the boundary three, maybe four times. I have never seen a group do that before. It doesn’t take that long to discuss how to take wickets (which, to be honest in those conditions required simply bowling straight and pitching it up, as Amir proved.) Butt did a lot of talking. Asif and Amir did a lot of listening.
So as a result, a lot of questions. If they were talking tactics, why weren’t the rest of the team involved, especially other bowlers? Why wasn’t it in the dressing room? Why so early in the morning? And, of course, what were they talking about?
This was the morning after the two alleged fixed no-balls and before Amir’s subsequent and most obvious no-ball. Unusually this no ball came on the back of an extraordinary spell of four wickets for no runs in three overs – so his bowling was exceptional ‘in-synch’ and potent.
Ultimately sportsmen seek the respect of their peers/elders in the team. It gives you significance and status. To try to follow their instructions is good. If you allow them to indoctrinate you it is bad.