Two months ago, as Shaun Pollock and Glenn McGrath were nagging their way to a combined tally of 16 wickets in 276 overs Down Under, it was feared that we were witnessing the end of an era of metronomic wicket-to-wicket bowling. Sheer speed, à la Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee, appeared to be the new modus operandi for the budding fast bowler.
But then Mohammad Asif burst onto the scene, brandishing a new interpretation of an old and approved theme. To say "burst" perhaps does the man a disservice, for he has been bubbling impatiently beneath the surface for the last 12 months and more. A single wicketless Test in Australia last winter left him frustrated and disillusioned, but under the watchful eye of Bob Woolmer, and with an insatiable appetite for hard labour, he has made himself an indispensable part of Pakistan's plans for world domination.
Asif has an unconventional action, combining the high-reaching knuckle-scrape of a Pollock with the open-chested pivot of Andre Nel. But it is undeniably effective, as demonstrated by the snorting off-cutter he produced to detonate VVS Laxman's stumps in the victory surge at Karachi.
His seven-wicket haul in a batsman-dominated series was the culmination of a determined bid for international recognition. He spent ten days in Chennai last year at the MRF Pace Academy but claimed to have learned little from the brief experience. More valuable has been his work with the former fast bowler and fellow son of Sheikhupura, Aaqib Javed, who might have been describing his former self when he spoke of "a very good pressure bowler with excellent fighting instincts."
Still only 23, Asif's time is now and he knows it. "I'm glad I'm being noticed now," he told reporters in Islamabad yesterday as he prepared for the second one-day international against India at Rawalpindi. With five wickets in two one-day outings against England and India, he has leapfrogged the earnest but injury-prone Umar Gul in his nation's affections, and cranked up the pressure on under-achieving squad stalwarts such as Mohammad Sami. England await in the summer, and to that end, Asif has secured himself a berth at Leicestershire from which to assess the seam-friendly English conditions. This is a young man who leaves nothing to chance.
2004 Impresses Leicestershire coaches in a one-off outing for second XI
2004-05 Takes best first-class figures of 7 for 35, for Sialkot against Multan in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy
January 2005 Test debut against Australia at Sydney, as replacement for Shoaib Akhtar. Goes wicketless in 18 overs
November 2005 Ten-wicket haul as Pakistan A embarrass England in warm-up match
November 2005 Signs for Leicestershire for 2006 season
December 2005 One-day debut against England at Rawalpindi - takes wicket of Marcus Trescothick in first over
January 2006 Returns to Pakistan Test team for visit of India, and produces starring role in 341-run win at Karachi.
What he says
"I like bowling to batsmen like Rahul Dravid who allow you to settle into a line, unlike a Sehwag with whom you can never settle into one line."
What they say - Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's coach
"I think he is the most improved bowler in Pakistan and I believe that he is now pushing the more established bowlers for a place in the team."
After two one-day internationals he is averaging an impressive 8.80, thanks in no small part to wickets in his first over of each match.
Did you know ...?
Asif's home town of Sheikhupura is a popular place for budding fast bowlers. As well as the man himself and Aaqib, it also produced Asif's current team-mate, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan.