Following in the footsteps of the two Ws, they were well on their way to forming a deadly fast bowling pair, when the two As, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif were caught in the fixing net in a Test match in 2010.
Not only the Pakistan team, the cricket world lost two of the finest exponents of the art of swing and seam bowling.
With the younger, Amir, all set to make a return to Test cricket at the same venue where it all went wrong for the two Pakistan pacers, it’s natural that Asif’s mind be also hovering around the upcoming action at Lord’s. Even though he has also served his five-year ban, Asif is still in wilderness, playing lower level cricket in Norway.
To start with, there is little enthusiasm in Asif’s voice when Hindustan Times contacted him over the phone in the Scandinavian nation. The questions on Amir evoke lukewarm response, suggesting how overdependence on one bowler will be fraught with risk for the Pakistan team against a strong England team.
It’s only when the conversation veers towards how one had watched his magical spell at Karachi, in his debut series against India in 2006, that he the lanky bowler comes alive. “Amir will have to produce the kind of spell I bowled at Karachi (4 for 78 and 3 for 48 v India, Karachi, 2005-06); or the one I bowled in Sri Lanka (6 for 44 and 5 for 26 v Sri Lanka, Kandy, 2005-06); then the one I bowled in Australia (6 for 41 and 2 for 53 v Australia, Sydney, 2009-10) and in South Africa (2 for 34 and 5 for 76 v South Africa, Port Elizabeth, 2006-07),” Asif recollects with a chuckle in his voice, speaking in reference to Amir’s comeback but reliving his golden moment when he stung batsmen with his deadly wristwork.
In August, 2010, set by bookie Mazhar Majeed, the two bowlers had bowled deliberate no-balls on the order of then Test captain Salman Bhatt in the Lord’s Test. After the sting expose, the three served long bans and were jailed by a UK court.
“My wishes are with Amir, it would have been good if I would have been playing at Lord’s too,” says Asif, who was also handed a one-year prison sentence for the offence.
Coming back to the Lord’s Test, which also happens to be Pakistan’s first at the venue since that infamous game, Asif, now 33, backs his bowling partner. “Amir has made a good comeback in limited overs cricket, he has done well in the warm-up games also, so he will go into the game with confidence. But, England is a very good side in Tests. They played very well against Sri Lanka. It would be unwise of Pakistan to be over-dependent on Amir. One bowler cannot take 20 wickets. The Pakistan batsmen will have to put up a strong show.”
Of more concern is the fact that Amir will receive flak from the spectators. “In your career whenever you make comeback, bade dil se karein (be strong hearted); whatever hurdles come your way, you have to overcome them, mushkil hoga (will be difficult), but not impossible.
“Amir has already been playing for one year now (in other formats); he shouldn’t let them (comments) affect him. (If someone passes remark) he shouldn’t get aggressive. Amir has to win over the people with his performance and then people will forget.”
Amir has made a dramatic return to limited overs cricket, the longer format will provide a different challenge though. “He will have to be physically ready to take the load of bowling long spells, be able to stick to one line.”
Asked how much he repented missing the prime years of his cricket career for his act, Asif says: “Everyone makes mistakes, I have also made a mistake. I have learnt a lot from it. It was a very difficult time for me,” adding he owes it to the support of his family and wife to be able to cope with the tough phase.
This writer had the chance to interview Asif before he made his Test debut, one could sense a craving for glamour even then. Unfortunately, the fears came true and Asif lost his way under the bright lights. He admits it. “There is a lot of glamour in the sport, there are other things also, and one can get carried away. I tell the youngsters, you should be able to learn by seeing other’s examples.
“I have told the International Cricket Council that I am ready to help them anytime they want me to teach the youngsters. I am ready to help any Cricket Board to speak to their youngsters about the mistakes they should avoid making.”
If his life would have not broken the rules, he would have been at the height of his powers. Now, while all eyes are on the players in London, Asif is working his way in club cricket in Norway.
“I have started my comeback in domestic cricket. I have been doing my fitness and playing here in Norway. I want to be back for the tour of Australia and New Zealand,” he says. His agent had also been trying to get him to play Twenty20 cricket in the ongoing Caribbean league, but things have not worked out so far.