Asim Butt Obituary
Jon Coates, The Scotsman
Asim Butt, international cricketer
Born: 24 October 1967 in Lahore
Died: 30 November 2009 in Lahore, aged 42
THE untimely death of Asim Butt has robbed three young boys of a loving father and the Edinburgh cricket scene of one of its most colourful and popular characters.
All across the cricket community, in fact, Butt will be recalled warmly for his admirable contribution to Scotland's first appearance at the Cricket World Cup in 1999. The fortnight included two memorable outings in front of 4,500 spectators in his adopted home city.
The moustachioed bowler was one of just three players with professional experience in a squad thrown into combat with players of astronomically higher calibre, but he was one of a small group who emerged with credit from Scotland's worthy initial efforts against the might of Australia and Pakistan.
The left-arm bowler, who had played state cricket in his native Pakistan before emigrating in the 1990s, could make the ball swing prodigiously in the air and was distantly superior to most of the locals he bowled at in club cricket. Even as recently as this summer past, he was giving periodical demonstrations of class.
For his team-mates in George Heriot's FP 2nd XI, the undoubted highlight of the 2009 season was the privilege of watching in awe as Butt, now 41, launched nine balls for six on the way to an innings of 103 against Fauldhouse.
Scotland team-mates remember him as a warm, open and witty character. A shopkeeper who latterly ran a successful convenience store near Easter Road, one of his closest friends in the game confided this week that he often heard him classified as a "lovable rogue".
All of the euphoric highs will mingle uneasily with a single, stark nadir in any review of Butt's international career. In 2005, at the age of 37, he was banned from all forms of cricket for a year by the England and Wales Cricket Board, having failing a drugs test after the Scottish Saltires' match against Somerset.
News wires carried this development in a rudimentary form around the entire world, rendering speechless anybody who had ever encountered the amiable, apparently abstemious father of three who got up at 4.30 every morning to greet the arrival of the morning newspapers.
The substance detected in his urine sample was MDMA, the main constituent of the dancehall drug Ecstasy, which infiltrated youth culture in the 1990s. Asim was 37 and teetotal, and he lived for cricket, all of which added to the bewilderment.
By way of explanation, the devastated bowler told how he had fallen into unreliable company after finishing a shift at his north Edinburgh branch of Scotmid, and smoked a cigarette that he claimed to have thought contained plain tobacco.
Told later that he had been inhaling cannabis, he feared the worst when the drug testers came calling but was stunned when informed that he had actually taken a Class A-listed party drug.
Perhaps the lasting image that should sum up Asim Butt's life is not the shamed face of a naïve man who failed to live up to what we expect of role-model athletes, but the determined expression he adopted during his suspension.
He had never sought the media glare but he gave a long and soul-searching interview in the staff room at Scotmid when only 13 days remained of his ban. Butt, who had played full-time for Lahore and Pakistan Railways in his prime, was torn between a boyish excitement at the prospect of indulging his sporting obsession after an idle year, and a grave appreciation of his own role in the demise of his reputation.
"You only learn once," he said, explaining how he had confined his social outings, since the drugs incident, to visiting his brother Mahmood. "It made me realise that the company you sit with, socially, you have to watch what you are doing.
“I’m stronger than before, with a stronger faith," he added. "I go to the mosque every Friday, and read a prayer at work and when I go home."
As that summer approached, Butt would plant his eldest sons, Ismael and Kasim, with a bat and ball in the middle of a cricket pitch and set about maintaining peak fitness in the time-honoured fashion, running repeatedly around the perimeter.
The ECB's stringent ban even extended to net practice sessions with Heriot's. Butt was counting the days until he could bowl for them again and, ultimately, rejoin his beloved Saltires - but the international comeback, after a serious knee injury, proved beyond him.
Butt is one of less than 30 cricketers to have represented Scotland at the Cricket World Cup and did so with distinction. He won 71 caps in all and took 106 wickets, and played for Corstorphine, Stewarts-Melville/Royal High and Heriot's.
He also earned a living as a chef, a delivery driver with IKEA, a store supervisor and ultimately in business with his brother Amir. He will be missed by many, and nobody more so than Ismael, Kasim and Raheel, none of them yet a teenager.