A matter of stats: Are Butt, Asif and Amir worth the fuss?

Pakistan seems to be divided on the return of the spot-fixing trio, but what do the statistics say?
Published September 1, 2015

Should Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir be allowed back into the Pakistan team?

The cricketing circles in the country are abuzz with judgments, and opinion clearly seems to be divided.

The ‘spot-fixing’ trio, as Amir, Asif and Butt are referred to in the media, have already made noise about resurrecting their international careers.

A comeback for Amir appears most likely considering that his path was cleared for him six months ago and he was allowed to feature in domestic matches by the International Cricket Council . If there were any doubts about the cricket world holding a soft corner for the tousled-haired left-arm pacer, they were removed when the Pakistan Cricket Board pushed for Amir's expedited return.

It seems a little unfair, though, that Butt, Amir, 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 cheating in international cricket can be forgiven, while misdeeds on the domestic stage are an unpardonable sin? It is a bit perplexing, to say the least.

And what about all the players who have represented Pakistan during the past five years with integrity and success? Will it be fair for Amir 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.

For Butt and Asif, it will be harder. They haven't played any competitive cricket for five years and both players are not as young as Amir, who, at 23, has a full career ahead of him.

But whether they should be allowed to come back into the national fold is another question all together.

The more pertinent issue is whether they still merit a return at all.

Away from the moral argument, what do the statistics say?

Here's a look at how the three players fared in the three formats before their bans, and whether their return is warranted

The records that stand out are Butt and Mohammad Amir in ODIs, and Asif in Tests. In T20Is, it was a mixed bag. While in Tests Butt and Amir were just about average, and likewise for Asif in ODIs.

Comparing their figures with those of the players who replaced them in the past five years will present a better picture.

In Test matches, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, and Taufeeq Umar have all performed far better than Butt ever did in his career. Even Shan Masood, who is just finding his feet in Test cricket, seems like a better opener than 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 record that is comparable to Butt's but is a much better fielder than the former captain.

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 Butt has no place in the Pakistan team in any format.

On the bowling front, however, the story is a bit different.

In Tests, there has been no fast bowler who has performed as well as Asif. Besides Tanvir Ahmed, who appeared for a short time and then fell out of favor for reasons best known to selectors, no one was a good as Amir either.

In fact, besides Tanvir, only Imran Khan averages under 30 among the pacers that have played for Pakistan in the past five years.

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 Amir.

Pakistan's pace bowling has definitely not been the same during the absence of the tainted duo, who together created arguably the best attacking pair Pakistan 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 five years.

Statistically there is no argument whether Amir and Asif should return in Pakistan's colours. However, on moral ground there is still plenty of debate.

On Butt however, there should be no debate. Pakistan has far better resources at the moment to go back to a dead weight.

Butt may have served his five-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 Amir 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 and he could have thrown the ball to anyone.

He was the one who ensured that Amir 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.

Butt enabled the whole fix, much like Kaneria has been accused of, and it should be enough to ensure that he never plays for Pakistan again.

Graphics by Ibtisam Zahid

Umair Qazi is the founder of wellpitched.com, co-founder of the popular facebook group 'Boys in Green', and he tweets @wellpitched