An Interview with Salman Butt by Abdul Habib 23rd July 2008 Abdul Habib: How did you get into the Pakistan team? Salman Butt: It was a step by step process for me, I'm a product of the Pakistani junior cricket development system. I played for the Pakistan u17 and u19 teams before I moved on to play for the Pakistan academy as well as playing games at the first class level. It was only then that I got my break playing for the Pakistan team. Abdul Habib: You are one of Pakistan's youngest debutants in Test cricket, is there a special story behind how you got into the playing XI? Wasim was dicovered by Miandad, Waqar and Inzi were discovered by Imran Khan and Razzaq got a push from Haroon Rashid and Khalid Mahmood. Were you spotted in a similar way? Salman Butt: No as I mentioned earlier I came into the Pakistan side through the youth and academy teams. Along the way I received a lot of help from a lot of coaches many of whom still help me today. They were all responsible for helping me and so I feel it would be unfair to single out one or two names. Abdul Habib: When you're batting you always seem to be saying something to yourself before each shot, what exactly are you saying? Salman Butt: I say Bismillah (In the name of God) before playing each ball Abdul Habib: Do you only say Bismillah or is there a specific dua (prayer) like the Durood Shareef (a prayer) that you recite to yourself? Salman Butt: Well before the game I do read the Durood Shareef and I remember Allah(swt) but whilst batting I'm only saying Bismillah before each ball. Abdul Habib: Following your Test debut vs Bangladesh in 2003, your next Test series was a debut of fire against Australia in Australia in 2005. You were one of Pakistan's best batsmen on that tour, you were even standing outside your crease to Brett Lee which is an indication of lightning fast reflexes. However your form dropped for the next couple of years after that, what would you attribute that to? Salman Butt: I agree with you that I didnt have a very good CB series but if you look at the next tour it was against India in India. I only got to play one Test match but during the ODI series I was one of the top run scorers from both teams and that was a series that Pakistan won. The series after that was against the West Indies where I only played 1 test and 2 ODIs and I scored in one of the ODIs. I'm not claiming that I was scoring centuries or big runs but I was scoring runs, unfortunately I didn't get a consistent run in the team at that time. Sometimes they would play me in the Test series but I'd miss most of the ODI series or they'd play me in most of the ODI series but I'd miss most of the Test series. The problem is that they seem to pick your for an ODI series based on your Test form and drop you from the Test side based on your ODI form and vice versa, I don't think that's right. But I would contend with you that there hasn't been a series where I've played most of the games and not had at least one good score. The exception would be the T20 World Cup where my performances werent good enough but other than that whenever I've played a full series I've usually put in some performances too. Abdul Habib: You just mentioned your poor run of form in the T20 World Cup. Did it have anything to do with you being made the Vice Captain? Did being the VC help or hinder your game and what effect did it have on your confidence? Salman Butt: It was a great honour to be made Vice Captain of Pakistan, so obviously my confidence was really high at that time. In the games leading up to the T20 WC I scored well against Sri Lanka and in Kenya but for some reason I was unable to score the runs that were expected of me during the T20 World Cup itself. Abdul Habib: You came in for a lot of criticism during the T20 World Cup, the general feeling was that if you weren't the Vice Captain of the team you would have been dropped. How did you cope with all that criticism and pressure? Salman Butt: If you're not playing well then people will criticise you and rightly so. If the criticism is constructive then I don't mind taking it because when I play well it's those same people who praise me and so it's only fair that they get to criticise me when I'm not doing well. They have their opinions about the way I'm playing and they have the right to express those opinions both when I'm scoring runs and when I'm not. An Insaan (human being) is there to learn and you learn more when you're struggling and going through difficulties than you learn when you're doing really well and everyone is praising you. It doesn't matter what job you do, if you aren't performing at your job you will get criticised so I accept that as a cricketer if I'm not doing my job of scoring runs then criticism will come my way. In the long run I think it makes you a stronger and better person. But there are also those people who support me even during my difficult times and I want them to know that I'll never forget their support because it's very important to me. Abdul Habib: You've scored a lot of runs on flat subcontinental pitches but you havent been as prolific outside the subcontinent, eg during the England tour... Salman Butt: (interrupts) ...Do you know how many matches I played in England? Do you know how many runs I scored in the side games against the county teams and England A? Abdul Habib: Actually, no I don't. Salman Butt: I think I played 4 innings in the side games and I scored 60s and 80s with two not outs. I only played two Test matches during that tour, I was run out with Younis Khan on 20 and I don't think it's fair to say that getting run out is a sign of a technical fault in my batting. I was out lbw at Headingley and I was caught in the slips once off Hoggards bowling. I dont think that based on two Test matches you can come to the conclusion that I dont have the technique to play on those pitches. In South Africa I played a game for the World XI at Cape Town where I scored a century under lights, no-one can say it's easy to score on a Cape Town pitch under lights. During the tour to Australia I scored a century in Sydney, In Melbourne on Boxing Day I was run out on 70, I got 60-odd in Hobart and I scored a century at Perth in a side game. Looking at my stats I dont think that it's fair to say that I can't bat outside the subcontinent. Abdul Habib: I saw the way you batted on the tour to Australia and I remember thinking at the time that if you can score on those pitches against that bowling attack then you can score anywhere in the world. These questions are being asked on behalf of members of our website, on this occasion I agree with you that it's unfair to be judging your ability to play outside the subcontinent on such a small sample. Salman Butt: I want to clear this up if I can. I'd like to ask those people who say these things to have a look at my stats and tell me how many games I've played in Australia and other countries outside the subcontinent. I haven't been selected for many games outside Asia, I can only play in those games that I've been selected for. I can't go by myself and start playing in games against South Africa and Australia, I can only try and take advantage of the opportunities that come my way. Abdul Habib: There seems to be a perception that you have a weakness against swing bowlers, eg Pathan and Hoggard. Do you agree and are you working on it? Salman Butt: Every batsman struggles when the ball is swinging, I don't know any batsman who hasn't struggled against a swinging ball. It's true that sometimes I've struggled when the ball is swinging but at other times I've scored runs against a swinging ball, perhaps those who say I can't play swing bowling havent seen those games or perhaps they've chosen to discount those games. It's their opinion and they have the right to have that opinion so I cant say much about that. As for me I can only try and practise more and try to get better which I'm doing. Abdul Habib: You've had a lot of different opening partners over the years, is there one in particular that you feel more comfortable opening with? Salman Butt: The opening combination has been through so much chopping and changing and I've had so many different opening partners that it's hard for me to say that I prefer batting with any specific person. You can't really tell who would make a good pairing with you until that person gets a consistent chance alongside you, I believe that whoever shows the required aptitude for opening should be given a proper run in the team. It's only when an opening pair gets consistent and frequent chances to open together that you can tell if they will be any good. Abdul Habib: You've opened with Nasir Jamshed a few times now, what are your impressions of him? Salman Butt: During the 4 or 5 games we've played together he's played well, we've gelled well together and I wish him luck for the future. He's a very good player and I believe that if we both get a consistent run together then it'll be good for both of us and hopefully the country as well. He's a very good player. Abdul Habib: Watching two left-handed batsmen opening the innings for Pakistan in an aggressive fashion (for th last few games) has reminded some of our website members of Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar. Salman Butt: (genuinely pleased) That's a huge compliment Abdul Habib: After Inzamam Ul Haq and Mohammad Yousuf, you're fast gaining a reputation as Pakistan's next run out King. Why do you think that you've been run out so many times? Salman Butt: Yes this is something that has stuck to me, I dont think the problem is with fast or slow running. I believe it's the calling that's to blame. Still it's unfair to compare me with those two because unlike them I'm always batting with a different person, I dont think they've had as many different running partners as I've had. When you're batting with someone then there needs to be a certain amount of trust and understanding between you, that's not something that happens overnight. It takes a lot of time to develop that trust, it's not possible to do that when your batting partners keep changing every match or every series. Abdul Habib: That's a good point about your opening partners but Younis Khan at 3 and Mohammad Yousuf at 4 hasn't really changed for several years now and you've been run out with those two as well. Are you working on your running and calling between the wickets? Salman Butt: Yes, definitely, I'm working very hard on it. The last few times I've been run out has been with Nasir Jamshed, I dont think I've been run out with the players you've named at all this year. In fact they've both been wonderful, they're beside me every step of the way helping and guiding me. Abdul Habib: During a recent post-match interview you mentioned how Younis Khan guided you through your innings and you were thanking him for his support. You seem to bat very well with Younis Khan, what's it like batting with him and what advice does he give you? Salman Butt: It's really helpful to be batting with someone who has such a wealth of experience, he's constantly talking to me and reminding me about what I should be doing. If I hit a boundary he comes up to me to say well done but then he reminds that I should now be looking for singles and that I shouldnt be taking any more chances in that over. Things like that help a lot. When a player of his calibre comes up to you to give you advice and to guide you on how to play a long innings it gives you a lot of confidence in your own ability too. Abdul Habib: Younis Khan often comes in to bat within the first or second over so you could argue he's basically been opening for Pakistan... Salman Butt: (interrupts) No, I dont agree with that. If you look at the last few series the opening has been doing really well. I dont think it's fair to say that he is always coming in during the first few overs. Abdul Habib: Ever since you scored that 290 vs Federal Areas during the Pentangular Cup your batting seems to have become more flowing and confident than it was before. What's changed in the recent past for us to see this new calmer and more assured Salman Butt? Salman Butt: First of all I'd like to say, thank God that it's happened! I think it's the result of all the accumulated experience that I've been getting playing for Pakistan over the last few years. I'm also lucky that I'm playing with some great and experienced batsmen, I've been sititng with them to listen and learn from their vast experience. Talking to them about batting and discussing my weaknesses with them has really been working for me. Hopefully this can continue and we can carry on supporting each other and hopefully that will reflect in our future results as a team. Abdul Habib: You seem to find it easier to hit a boundary than you do take a single, I think it's because you hit the ball too well and it travels to the fielder too fast. What are you doing to convert those dot balls into singles? Salman Butt: The nature of the pitches in Asian countries means that the ball comes on to the bat very nicely, if you're in good form you tend to hit the ball a lot harder and because the outfields are so fast the ball does travel very quickly. The ball doesnt come up much unless it's spinning or there is some grass on the pitch. Abdul Habib: But more experienced players like Younis and Yousuf are very good at dropping the ball at their feet, finding the gaps and even trickling the ball down to third man in order to steal cheeky singles. Is this something that you're working on? Salman Butt: Yes I'm trying to work these things into my game as well. You have to remember that these players have been around for 10 or 12 years now and these things have only really come into the game over the last 3 or 4 years. Before that they were similar to where we younger players are now. Yousuf Bhai and Younis Bhai tell us this themselves, they say that nothing is going to change overnight. We need to learn step by step and keep working hard and eventually we will be rewarded. Abdul Habib: Before you joined the Pakistan team you used to be a batting all-rounder, you used to bowl as well as bat. What happened? Why don't you bowl anymore? Salman Butt: If you think back to when I joined the team you'll remember that at that time we had 6 or 7 good bowlers in the side and so I was never asked to bowl. But now over the last year or so we are struggling with our bowling options and I've started bowling in the nets again so that i'm ready for whenever the captain needs me. Abdul Habib: How confident are you in your bowling? Salman Butt: You can only be as confident as the results that you produce, once I get the chance to bowl in some games and I know that I'll be getting the ball regularly then my confidence will continue to grow as I bowl more regularly.