There are two types of swagger: one is intrinsic, the other is put on. The fake kind is hollow and often irritating but the genuine article is beautiful and irresistible. The feigned kind of swagger is exposed sooner or later on a cricket ground, and doesn't last long.
Mohammad Asif has lived a scandal-filled cricketing career and hit rock bottom in 2010 for being banned and jailed for spot-fixing. He has also been caught carrying illegal drugs at the Dubai Airport, has had a notorious and failed public affair with a TV actress, and has failed a dope test. Somehow, he is still a relevant cricketer with his swagger intact. It never went away.
His physique as a fast bowler never made sense. He looks thin enough to be blown away by a poke. But he is strong, as all Gujjars tend to be. His presence in the ground can easily be felt; he strides like he is walking a tightrope. On Saturday, the first day of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final, Asif was the last man to leave the dressing room for Water and Power Development Authority's warm-up session before the toss, and walked straight to the pitch, which was topped with patches of green.
By the end of the day's play, he had figures of 18.1-4-29-4 as WAPDA bowled Habib Bank Limited out for 236. It took his season's wicket haul to 19 in five matches, at an average of 18.63. Of the 127 overs he has bowled, 52 - or nearly 41% - have been maidens. He has made a massive impact on his team, leading a brittle attack, holding it together, winning games. Whether that is enough for Pakistan to pick him again remains to be seen; the selectors watched him keenly, but they retain a sense of reluctance about going back to him - given all his misdemeanours, their caution is probably reasonable.
But Asif's bowling is capable of changing the most stubborn minds. He ripped through Habib Bank's top order within no time, leaving them 19 for 3 by the time he had bowled three overs. In the seven overs of his opening spell, he conceded a mere eight runs. His second spell of five overs was wicketless, but he bowled three maidens and only conceded four runs. His rhythm was relentless.
His run-up and follow-through were smooth as ever, stirring old memories of a master strategist. He didn't bowl at any great pace: he made Kamran Akmal stand up to the stumps even when he bowled with the new ball, but this was also because he wanted to push back Ahmed Shehzad, who was standing out of his crease in a bid to counter his movement.
At one time, Habib Bank were reeling at 21 for 6, before Rameez Aziz and Fahim Ashraf rescued them with an 84-run stand for the seventh wicket. A 99-run ninth-wicket partnership between Aziz and Abdur Rehman frustrated WAPDA further, before Asif returned to send back Aziz.
"I did well in previous games but since today was the final and it was also being live telecast, I was just enjoying," Asif said after the day's play. "I have a much-needed rhythm, and since it was a big match and only big player delivers on such occasions, I gave it all and am now hoping to make the second innings count as well."
Asif posed a considerable threat in each of his four spells, and a powerful appeal against Aziz took you back to the past, low to the ground on bent knees with arms outstretched. There was no way to gauge his fitness, at 33, and say if he would be able to cope with international cricket, but he looked confident. "I bowled seven straight overs with the new ball. In fact I bowled more overs than anyone else, 18.1 overs," he said. "What else do you expect me to do to prove [my fitness]. If I wasn't fit I don't think I could have bowled those overs.
"I am doing what I am required to do; rest is in the hands of Allah and then the selectors. I am doing my best and I can't do more. So to me I am doing well. The basics are still the same, which I haven't forgotten, and I am just applying myself with everything I have. I know I still have my space there and it is never taken by anyone and I am confident that I will soon be taking it back."
Asif is playing his second day-night game with the pink ball. He wasn't too happy with the quality of the ball being used in the tournament, and said it becomes soft after about 15 overs and that dew was also an issue under lights.
"It's an experiment, but obviously we have to adopt it as this is the future for Test cricket," he said. "The ball being used isn't the grade A quality and if you want bowlers to be groomed you need to have good balls.
"As a bowler it's slightly difficult during the twilight because the ball is hard to spot against the background, especially when the sun is out along with the lights. So that transition period causes some problem for the fielders as well, especially for the catching positions or at some sharp fielding positions like point, where the ball is a little difficult to pick up. But it's a learning curve for all of us and we are getting used to it."