Throwing it all away
As quickly as Mohammad Asif has risen, so is he determined to fall. Eclipsing the bewilderment at this latest scrape, the frustration and disbelief, is the incredible sadness. Few matters in life are as deflating as the squandering, willful or otherwise, of genuine talent.
For even if this is all some terrible, disastrous misunderstanding - and the evidence supporting that theory is not great so far - the stigma for one so bright, so young, so early in his career is too glaring.
And this is yet another taint in a career that has so far been loaded with one other drug scandal, a fight with a team-mate, and an unproven slur of ball tampering. Men of all kinds have faltered early in life and career only to reform, and made great tales out of it too. If Asif is going to do it, he had better start soon because Pakistan knows - or should know - only too well what happens when fast bowlers waste their unique gifts.
Let's not pretend that cricketers have not meddled in drugs before, especially recreational ones. Asif's own countrymen have not been averse. In England a number of county cricketers have had problems big and small. One legend enjoyed the green and it didn't prevent him from having a knighthood conferred upon him. New Zealand and South Africa have also dealt with cricketers who, unlike Bill Clinton, inhaled. The former even made one of them captain, in fact their best and one of the best from the modern age.
But circumstances here are particularly disturbing, for if there is substance in the charges, then not just Asif's career but his life may be blotted. Penalties for such offences in Dubai, where he has been detained, are especially severe.
If true, no one factor can explain the stupidity of his actions. Lack of education, grooming and small-town upbringing will be trotted out, but with how much conviction? Cricket in much of the subcontinent is moving to smaller towns and villages. The Indian team has cricketers who are not particularly educated, and most of the Pakistan team is no different. Yet none of them are in the strife Asif finds himself in.
Now in danger of being overlooked and forgotten is his wonderful skill. He is a confident young man - enough for it to be often taken as arrogance and cockiness. He is also a fresh breath of air in Pakistan's pace tradition, for he has defied the modern fashion of bowling as fast as possible. His lineage can be traced to Fazal Mahmood and Sarfraz Nawaz more than the two Ws. If his bowling is anything to go by, he has an alert cricketing brain and Pakistan can ill afford to lose that. To write, think and talk of drugs, fights and bans and not Asif's line, length, bounce and seam movement is debilitating.
|Asif's lineage can be traced to Fazal Mahmood and Sarfraz Nawaz more than the two Ws. If his bowling is anything to go by, he has an alert cricketing brain and Pakistan can ill afford to lose that. To write, think and talk of drugs, fights and bans and not Asif's line, length, bounce and seam movement is debilitating|
There have been enough mavericks, oddballs, colourfully defiant and derailed people in the past here; Pakistan has had enough scandals, fights, factionalism and more. "In any drama that has happened in my playing time, the common denominator in it all is Pakistan," said Allan Border back in 1988. He wasn't far wrong.
But through it all Pakistan teams kept pulling off magnificent, barely believable successes on the field. They won the World Cup, they bruised West Indies, they were undefeated at home, they won abroad. Right or wrong, winning while trying to defeat themselves enhanced their worth. This team, sadly, is not that team. It doesn't look like winning much. It is suspiciously and unnaturally bland, mediocre even. Scandal, therefore, doesn't fit it well.
Tough days lie in wait for Pakistan and young men are required: men as willing as the young and earnest Umar Gul, or with the punch of Salman Butt. Pakistan needs the unflappability of Sohail Tanvir, the tirelessness of Danish Kaneria. Pakistan also needs the gifts of Asif, for no one can afford to lose them.
If he is lucky and somehow escapes punishment in Dubai despite charges being proved against him, he will come out of this with just a ban imposed on him by the board. If so, it would partly, not entirely, make up for their grand folly in helping to ensure that he got away untouched after he admitted to using steroids two years ago. What the PCB sows, it will, like the rest of the world, reap.
If he doesn't come back from this, then of all the talent that has been wasted by the self as much as by inadequate administration in this country, Asif's is among those that will be mourned the longest.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo