x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Asif controversies draw yawns now

Any other player, and allegations from girlfriends would have been laughed off. However, many can argue that in Asif's case, there is no smoke without fire.

Amid all the brouhaha surrounding the circus that is the Suspended Three, the suspensions, the appeals, the rejection of the appeals, the accusations of bias directed at the International Cricket Council (ICC), the television talk shows and the umpteen media interviews for Salman Butt, Mohammad Aamer and their various lawyers, one man from whom little has been heard is Mohammad Asif.

Butt, Aamer and their many lawyers have been churning out their scarcely believable and logic-defying protestations of innocence. Asif, on the other hand, has been strangely quiet. Strange, but not unexpected for those who have followed his career. Asif prefers a low profile both on and off the field.

Asif comes across as one of those rare international cricketers who is not too keen on the limelight. On the field, he simply lets his bowling do the talking; very eloquent it is, too.

Asif is the most intelligent bowler to come out of Pakistan. His bowling is all about strategy, it is artful, but calculated. He relies on brains rather than brawn to get his wickets; a high-quality seam bowler who can extract movement off the pitch, even when his peers find nothing.

Asif's methods might be different to past Pakistani fast bowlers, but they are equally devastating. In the 12 months prior to his suspension, Asif had been the most successful pace bowler in the world, taking 55 wickets in 12 Tests. And this despite having numerous catches dropped off his bowling, thanks to poor Pakistani slip fielding and Kamran Akmal's dodgy wicketkeeping.

This summer, Asif reached the milestone of 100 wickets in just his 20th Test, a rare feat for modern-day pace bowlers that only Waqar Younis and Dale Steyn have matched in the past 30 years.

As many leading batsmen, such as Kevin Pietersen and Sachin Tendulkar would attest, Asif has the knack of conjuring an unplayable delivery out of nowhere, and has done this time and time again.

He hits the pitch hard, bowls in tight lines, and is adept at working out batsmen, relentlessly probing their weaknesses and their fears, exploiting them and then getting them out.

This ability is acknowledged by batsmen the world over, with many recognising Asif as the most fearsome current Pakistani bowler.

However, Asif's impressive feats and potential have often been overlooked by both fans and selectors while other, poorer (but faster) bowlers have been seen as "saviours".

Of course, his lack of "glamour" and his abhorrence for pure pace are not the only reasons Asif is not as big a star in Pakistan as some of his far less accomplished compatriots. The other reason is Asif's troubled history. He has tested positive for steroids twice, banned for it, been caught with a recreational drug in his wallet at Dubai's airport and detained for it.

No surprise then, that while the alleged spot-fixing by Salman Butt and Aamer shocked almost every Pakistani, the allegations about Asif were met with a shrug: "Oh, that Asif, up to his usual tricks again."

Few contemporary players have had as chequered a disciplinary record as Asif. While the talent and the intelligence on the field are undoubted, so it seems, is the foolishness off it. The spot-fixing allegations at Lord's this summer were followed by revelations by Veena Malik, his former girlfriend and Pakistani actress, about Asif's contacts with Indian bookmakers and his apparent involvement in match-fixing.

Any other player, and her allegations would have been laughed off.

However, controversy and Asif seem to be permanent bedfellows and many argue that in Asif's case, there is no smoke without fire.