Before you watch the likes of James Anderson and Mohammed Siraj rip apart batsmen with wobble seam, read this article on the tragedy of the father of the delivery, the Dark Lord of Fast Bowling…
Norway and cricket are two things that you’d probably never associate with each other. Cricket, being the quintessential summer sport, is the antithesis to the country’s winter sporting culture. But even in frosty old Norway, cricket exists; a keen community of south asian workers created 6 divisions for 67 cricket clubs. It ain’t much but these cricket clubs are a priceless sanctuary into a life they left behind. One of these 67 cricket clubs is called Christiania Cricket Club and in 2016, they played Oslo CC in an Eliteserien fixture (the topmost division in the country).
Oslo CC were batting on a reasonably fresh astro wicket. It’s not really ideal for Norwegian cricket to prosper if the topmost division is playing on artificial surfaces but for these immigrants, any cricket is good cricket. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom: they had some pretty decent coloured kits and were even using white balls in T20, things that doesn’t always happen in England. Behind the umpire, there was an abandoned group of lifeless trees and overgrown bushes with an occasional smattering of dull white flowers. Not really a beautiful sight. You could tell that this random strip of land was the only place the players could find that wasn’t occupied by one of the many football pitches in Norway, the country’s most popular sport in terms of participation. But as I said, in Norway, any cricket is good cricket.
At the top of his mark, stood the Christiana CC bowler: he was strikingly tall for a south Asian and was of a slim build. Oddly enough, he looked to be bowling around the wicket to a right hander and that too with a run up that wouldn’t even be fit for a spinner. The man cruised in leisurely with a smooth and flowing gait. As he completed his bowling action, who this man was became clear. That languid bobbling of the bowling hand in gather, that front arm falling away considerably and that spitting cobra of a wrist: this was Mohammad Asif. The demon bowler who had once graced international cricket heaven with his wizardry, now banished to the outer depths of cricket purgatory in shame.
The scene I have just described is a YouTube video with 2.2 million views; it was named “M Asif 5 Wicket Against Oslo CC ( Eliteserie 2016 ) Norway”. This video has stuck with me for quite some time now. It’s just so sad to see a such an extraordinary talent playing on an astro wicket with no-one watching, except a colony of impartial trees, in the middle of Norway, in the middle of nowhere. Mind you, I don’t feel an iota of sadness towards Mohammad Asif. He was old enough and should have been mature enough to know what he did was a betrayal to the game which gave him all he had. My sadness is for the fast bowling talent trapped in the deplorable Mohammad Asif, left unable to seek gratification from the cricketing world.
To those who think that last paragraph was a pile of hyperbolic nonsense, I don’t think you quite understand how good this guy was. If you don’t believe me ask the batsmen he dismissed; Asif has dismissed Hashim Amla 5 times, Michael Clarke 4 times, AB De Villiers, Alastair Cook, Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith each 3 apiece. He’s even got Kevin Pietersen twice at an average of 4.50. Amla and Pietersen have even publicly admitted that Asif is the toughest bowler they have ever faced. These are some seriously big fishes that Asif has reeled in and tortured repeatedly.
So, what made him so good? Well, Mohammad Asif had a wrist. A spitting cobra of a wrist. A wrist so devious that it breathed life into the ball and gave it a mind of its own. He never swung it as much as Wasim Akram but Asif’s style of swing was something far subtler. With most bowlers you can pick up cues in their wrist or action to tell which way it’s going but he’s too deceptive for that. With the exact same wrist position, the ball would either swerve subtly out or in just at the latest of moments. This was enough to allow the real star of the show to do its work: the seam.
I have seen quicker, more accurate and better swing bowlers than Mohammad Asif but when it comes to seam he is in a universe of his own. With his robotic sense of line and length, he bowled tight at the stumps testing the batsmen’s defence. And then out of nowhere, he pulls out the joker in his pack of tricks: the in-jagger. The wild ball no bowler has been able to tame as well as Mohammad Asif. Defend, drive, leave, it doesn’t matter, the Asif in-jagger will find the gap between your bat and pad.
To find the first sighting of the Asif in-jagger, wind back to 2006, Karachi, India vs Pakistan. VVS Laxman is batting solidly on 19 not out but luckily for him, he’s not had much of a chance to face Asif. But that changed in the 13th over. His first five balls were vintage Asif , on a good length, making the batsman play on an off stump line. The 6th ball was a bit a wider and had a touch of in swing but nothing much. And then it happened. After pitching, the ball didn’t seam, it swerved. It literally swerved like a Waqar Younis yorker but off the pitch. It genuinely looked like the ball was thumping into the middle of the bat but then it suddenly took a sharp turn and hurtled into off stump like a heat-seeking missile. Laxman looked befuddled. No matter what you say about the gap between his bat and pad, that was something else.
One thing some people seem to have against Asif is his pace. He generally operates in and around the late 70s and low 80s, or at least that is what the speed gun says. Many accomplished batsmen have reported that he possesses something truly evil: the ability to accelerate the speed of the ball. Maybe this is an illusion created by Asif’s deceptively casual action or it could be because of the inhumane levels of backspin he imparted upon the ball, it’s impossible to know. If you have a hard time believing this, just watch an Asif bowled compilation and watch the batsman. They always appear completely beaten for pace with their feet seem stuck in quicksand by his supposed 80 mph dibbly dobblers. Great batsmen are made to look like fools on placid asian pitches that aren’t meant to move of the straight. If this isn’t sorcery, I don’t know what is.
There is only one thing in cricket more cunning than Mohammad Asif’s wrist and that is Mohammad Asif’s brain. Before a game he picks apart the minute deficiencies of the opponent’s top 7, nothing is left unanalysed. After that, he comes up with a plan:
VVS Laxman? I’ll have him bowled. The same goes to Dravid. I’ll be careful with Sehwag, I’ll stifle his runs. Sachin Tendulkar? I’ll plug away at 4th stump let my in-jagger do its work. Don’t need to worry about Ganguly, the man can’t even play off his legs.
But a plan isn’t about bowling in the same spot every bat. It’s about resisting the urge to strike too early. He chips and chips away at the batsman until he is in the fragile shape he wants him to be. Once the time is ripe, Asif slithers into the crease like a bloodthirsty Boa Constrictor and then finishes his prey with a venomous bite. The dismayed look on the batsmen’s face is what makes bowling what it is for him: the sweet taste of a hunt well done. And this is what made Mohammad Asif the torturous dark lord of fast bowling.
It’s been 5 long years since Asif played for Christiana CC in Norway, in the middle of nowhere. Since then, he’s played some low level cricket in America and actually made a first class comeback. While he made test batsmen look like fools, like he did in the old days, his body had stabbed him in the back before anyone could think about his test debut. This was fitting considering the way he stabbed cricket in the back with his treacherous deeds.
Nowadays he fuels his ego by getting into verbal spats with former cricketers and talking about how good he was as a bowler. I guess the only thing that remains now is his overflowing confidence. It was his confidence that made him the unstoppable demon bowler he was. But it was also his confidence that made him believe he could deceive the whole world and paved the way for his demise. Looking into the future, Asif is planning to open a cricket academy in USA. This is his chance to redeem himself and donate that astute fast bowling brain of his to the growth of cricket in the States. Maybe that we’ll see more bowlers with a wrist. A spitting cobra of a wrist.