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Memory Lane: Babar Butt bats on as he aims for third World Cup

Memory Lane: Babar Butt bats on as he aims for third World Cup

Author: Alan Birkinshaw

There are not many people who can claim to have played for both England and Pakistan – but Babar Butt can.

In the past three years he has appeared for both countries at Over 50s level and is hoping to earn further call ups in the coming years.

The man who won six league titles, five Priestley Cups and four Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions Trophies with Pudsey Congs, is loving the international scene.

Butt, who made an unbeaten 102 when Yorkshire suffered a four-wicket defeat in the 2019 ECB County Over 50s Championship final against Essex, made his international bow as part of the England squad that toured South Africa at the start of 2017.

He had hoped it would be a stepping-stone to playing for England in the first Over 50s World Cup in Sydney in 2018, but surgery on an Achilles injury meant he missed the trials and his chance seemed to be gone.

However, a cricketing friend in Pakistan found out and asked if he would consider playing for them. To qualify he had to go and play in the domestic Over 50s competition and was duly picked.

Butt was selected as wicketkeeper batsman and Pakistan performed well, surging through to the final where they faced hosts Australia.

After bowling out the Aussies for 165, Pakistan crashed to 94-9 before Butt and last man Intiaz Tarar started to turn things around. They added 68 and had taken their side to the brink of an amazing victory when Butt was given out lbw for 46.

“It was a terrible decision from the Australian umpire,” said Butt. “I nicked the ball on to my pad and there was at least six inches between the two of them. We were all shattered to lose that way.”

Babar Butt, far left back row, with the Pakistan Over-50s squad at the 2018 World Cup in Sydney

Babar Butt, second left front row, with the Pakistan Over-50s squad at the 2020 World Cup in CapeTown

Three Bradford League players at the 2020 Over 50s World Cup. From the left, Iqbal Khan, the former Drighlington, Brighouse and Undercliffe batsman who was in the India squad, Batley opening bowler Muhammad Shahnawaz who was playing for England, and Babar Butt, the Pudsey Congs stalwart playing for Pakistan.The former Hanging Heaton and Gomersal all rounder Steve Foster was also at the tournament with England.

Pakistan again selected Butt for the 2020 World Cup which was being played in South Africa and he was in action against Wales when the tournament was called off because of Coronavirus.

Butt, who is 54, will now be looking to play in the 2022 version which will again be staged in South Africa. So, will it be Pakistan or England he plays for?

“England is where I live so if I can do well for Yorkshire, I would love the chance to play for them next time,” he said.

Butt certainly has no plans to hang up his boots and it would be no surprise if he added to his tally of 9,232 league runs. He still loves playing the game and now has the added incentive of playing alongside his sons Bilal (15) and Hassan (13), at Pudsey Congs.

“It will be great to play some games with them. I hope they get as much enjoyment from cricket as I have had,” he said.

Butt first made his mark on The Bradford League in 1984 when he arrived from Pakistan as an unknown 18-year-old and quickly caught the eye at Bowling Old Lane.

He said: “When I look back now, I learned so much about cricket from the likes of Jack Hill and Brian Clough. They absolutely loved the game and had so much knowledge.

“Jack would give it to you straight. He did not waste words but what he said was always worth listening to. As a young cricketer I learned so much from him about how to approach the game.

“Cloughie was just an amazing guy. He was in his 50s when I arrived. but he still had a wonderful enthusiasm for the game.

“He helped the captain Richard Coates to create a great atmosphere in the dressing room. It made it so easy for me to fit in.”

Butt’s second season was his most productive in the Bradford League. The talented youngster scored 1,027 runs and he followed up with 800 in 1986 before returning to Pakistan to study at Lahore University.

When Butt returned to England in 1992 he was persuaded to join Rotherham Town in the Yorkshire League by Nick Cowan – the son of former Yorkshire fast bowler Mike who was well known in Bradford League circles after a spell at Bingley – and it proved to be a shrewd decision.

Rotherham won the league for the first time in almost 30 years and Butt made an immediate impression, topping 800 runs and heading the league averages.

He was to spend three seasons at Rotherham before following Cowan to Doncaster Town when he became captain there.

He remembers: “It was a talented young side which included Richard Dawson who went on to play for Yorkshire and England as an off spinner, Yorkshire wicketkeeper Simon Guy and Yorkshire batsman Simon Widdup.

“Over the five years I was there the team got better and better. In 1999 it all came together. I had become England qualified having lived in the country for seven years and was appointed captain.  We went unbeaten all season and won both the league and cup.”

The fab five. Neil Gill, Gary Brook, Matthew Doidge, Andy Bethel and Babar Butt  who featured in Pudsey Congs' five successive league title wins from 2000-2004.

Butt had moved back to live in Bradford and a call from Matthew Doidge was to set him on a path to the most glorious period of his cricketing career.

He recalled: “Playing in the Yorkshire League on the lovely wickets and big grounds with nice facilities was good, but Doidgy had offered me something different. He was building a team at Pudsey Congs to win honours and sold his idea to me.

“At that stage of my career it might have been simpler to settle for something easier, but as soon as I stepped into the dressing room I could see every player had a burning desire to be a winner and would give everything for the team.

“I have always enjoyed training and practice and during our five championship winning years at Congs Matthew Doidge never missed a Tuesday or Thursday training session. He set the tone but there were others like Andy Bethel who made great efforts to get there. He lived in Sheffield and travelled around the country with his work, but he would get back from trips to London just for a 10-minute net.

“There were occasions I would try to get to the ground five or even 10 minutes early in a bid to be the first one there, but on every occasion sat reading his newspaper and there before me would be Doidgy.

“His work ethic made me want to work hard and play more. He really did set a wonderful example for all of us to follow.”

Hard work was not the only key ingredient to Congs amazing success. Doidge knew the players he needed to realise his ambitions and then had the skill to organise them and get the best from them.

Butt said: “Doidgy knew how to improve the side when it needed changing. He identified exactly what he needed and went out and got the men who could do the job.

“Glenn Roberts, Andrew Bairstow and Rana Naveed all came in after we had started our title-winning run and later we signed David Paynter and Paul Carroll to continue the success. They all wanted to be part of a winning team and bought in to what Congs was about.”

In Neil Gill and Rana Naveed, Congs had a devastating new ball attack which gave little away and posed problems for batsmen throughout Division One.

Butt said: “I just wish Rana, above, had been younger when he came to England. It is amazing what he achieved for Congs and then for Sussex and Pakistan, but if he had younger, he would surely have broken through into first class cricket sooner and been an even bigger star.

“Because he batted eight or nine at Congs people tended to overlook his batting skills, but he could score 100s and did on occasions.”

Bairstow was another player with a wonderful talent. He destroyed bowling attacks with his powerful stroke play and Butt has fond memories of Bairstow’s match-winning innings in the 2008 Priestley Cup final against Woodlands.

Andrew Bairstow on his way to 121 in the 2008 Priestley Cup final. Picture: Mike Baker

“I was already batting when he came in and it was as much as I could do to survive. We were in trouble, but Bluey hit his first ball for six and from then on was playing a different game to the rest of us. His 121 is the finest innings I have seen in any cup final and it illustrated what a fine player he was.”

As well as their top stars, Butt believes a key factor in their success was having unselfish players like Mark Bray and Nijad Khan in their squad, players who would step up to the challenge whenever asked to do so.

“I had heard from people in the local Pakistani cricket community that Nijad Khan was a talented player who could play at a higher level.

“We brought him in whenever James Middlebrook or Gareth Clough were on county duty and he always delivered. He made 50 on his debut at East Bierley and was man of the match when we beat Sheffield Collegiate in the 2002 Black Sheep final.

“Mark Bray, above, was just a wonderful team player. Even if he had not had a bowl for three weeks, he would still come into the dressing room with a big smile on his face. Being the back up seamer to Gill and Rana meant his opportunities were limited, but when he was asked to either open the bowling or tie down an end, he did it superbly.

“In other teams he would have been an automatic choice as opening bowler. He never complained, he just got on with playing his part in what was a very efficient and well organised set up. It wasn’t just the players that made it special it was the workers off the field too who created the right atmosphere for success, people like Derrick Reason, Ralph Middlebrook, Peter Marsh and Mick Knight to name just a few.”

Babar Butt lifted the Priestley Cup in his first season as captain  Picture: Mike Baker

When Doidge decided to stand down as captain at the end of the 2006 season it was Butt, they turned to as his replacement. The side had a different look to it with Andrew Bourke, Alexis Twigg and Tom Glover all coming in from the Yorkshire League and they helped provide Butt with a Priestley Cup final win over Cleckheaton.

A revitalised Doidge resumed control in 2008 when Congs defeated Woodlands to win the Priestley Cup final, but like Butt, he was back in the ranks when Glenn Roberts led the team to a surprise title triumph in 2010.

“It was fitting that the final wicket fell to a catch by Matthew Doidge as we won at Bankfoot on the final day of the season. It was a fitting way for him to end his days at Congs,” said Butt.

Butt was reappointed captain in 2017 but could not prevent a youthful Congs side from being relegated from the Premier Division.

Despite that setback, Butt has very fond memories of playing Bradford League cricket: “The great thing is that everybody can beat each other. The competition is tough, and it makes you challenge yourself to succeed.

“I can remember how smart a tactician Baildon captain Mick Emmerson was, he was always making you think with the way he set his fields and changed his bowlers.

“It was also tough making runs against bowlers like Richard McCarthy and Craig Hitchenor. You knew you had batted well if you made 50 against them.

“As players we are fortunate to benefit from the incredible work done by club and league officials. That cannot be overlooked or underestimated. We would have no game without them."

 Babar Butt was the master of the one handed shots amd regularly hit sixes with them

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