In no particular order, here is pretty much all of the Bilal Asif conversation that could be had pre-Test.
Are Pakistan really going to play Bilal Asif?
Are there no other offspinners in Pakistan?
Is Shadab Khan really not fit enough?
Why not play a left-arm spinner instead?
Where is Mohammad Asghar?
Why is he not Kashif Bhatti?
Are you sure there isn't another offspinner in Pakistan?
Have two spinners from the same side ever been called for their action in the same Test?
You get the tone right, that these weren't conversation-starters as much as conversation-ending questions, that vicious variety of question that is a pure putdown. The worst thing you can do to these types of questions is to give them answers.
So, in order now, top to bottom:
Are Pakistan really going to play Bilal Asif? Yes, they are. They just did. And on the first occasion that Yasir Shah went wicketless in an innings in the UAE, aren't they glad they did.
Are there no other offspinners in Pakistan? Here are some fun facts. Last season in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Iftikhar Ahmed was the top offspinning wicket-taker and he was 41st on that list. Asif was 59th. The season before that was better, or more accurately, not as bad. The top offspinner was 25th on the wickets chart and the year before that 44th. You have to go as far back as the 2012-13 season to find an offspinner in the top 10 wicket-takers list, and Atif Maqbool was the highest wicket-taker that season but that is a modern anomaly.
So no, there aren't that many offspinners in Pakistan cricket. Or that many with legal actions (more on this later). When Saeed Ajmal was reported for his action in 2014, the PCB estimated there to be 35-40 bowlers with suspect actions, a number of them offies. Also most domestic pitches are in such a poor way that all sides are like 1980s England and loaded with horses-for-courses medium-pacers. The offspinner anyway is genetically disposed to being the last guy any team ever picks from a line-up.
Is Shadab Khan really not fit enough? He isn't. And you know what? It won't be easy bringing him back in even if he is fit for Abu Dhabi. That's just the way Pakistan cricket rolls, the last hour's superhero replaced by the next hour's, for another hour at least.
Why not pick a left-arm spinner? Good question - and let's group it together with the two that follow it - because there are plenty of SLAs on the circuit. And one of Pakistan's calling cards in the UAE has been the unassuming SLA who sides don't pay attention to until he comes in and wrecks their happiness. Until a couple of years ago Asghar was going to be the next guy, and possibly the main guy, exciting everyone, most of all that great dismisser of spin, Misbah-ul-Haq. He's now not. Mohammad Nawaz isn't either. And probably not Zafar Gohar either, who still can't shed the allegation that he overslept and missed a chance for a Test debut three years ago.
Bhatti has crazy numbers and has been prominent for a number of seasons, but his greatest sins seem to be that he is unfashionable (he's SLA so he can't really help it). Speaking of which, Zulfiqar Babar was in the crowd, looking even more like the midlife crisis uncle than when he was playing. In any case, this is a question best answered by Inzamam-ul-Haq, chief selector, whenever he has time from defending himself of charges of nepotism.
So you're sure there isn't another offspinner in Pakistan? Yes, pretty.
Have two spinners from the same side ever been called for their action in the same Test? Oh yes, of course, this. Smirk. The thing people forget about Asif being reported soon after his ODI debut in 2015 was that subsequent ICC testing actually cleared him. Let's spell that out: an ICC-accredited lab tested his action in front of a gazillion high-speed cameras and found that his elbow did not extend beyond 15 degrees on release.
Today, as the wider world sat up and took notice of him it might again look at the action and furrow its brow and start muttering like somebody's skirt is too short, or hair too long. And fine, he might still get reported but that would be because umpires call bowlers on what they see with their eyes, not on what technology measures, and what they see with the eye is an unusual action for an offspinner.
Two things. One, he was happily bowling in a short-sleeved shirt so that if there is a kink in the action, at least he is not worried enough to hide it. Naïve maybe, maybe confident, but far greater offpsinners have played entire careers never once wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
The other is that the work he puts on the ball would appear to be generated mostly from the wrist. In fact, the more that was seen of him today the more he appeared to be some strange composite of the great Arshad Khan and the greatest Muttiah Muralitharan. That is, he moves with Arshad Khan's gait and bearing and height, and perhaps a glimpse of his approach (if viewed with one eye shut) but he had Murali's wrist fixed on to the end of his arm.
And the bowling was an equally unsettling combination of both. There were loopy, dipping deliveries that spun as if a conventional fingerspinner from the 1950s had returned to deliver them. But he could also be the consummate modern offie, built for limited-overs cricket. Occasionally he bowled something that remains unclassified for now. It could've been the doosra - which is something he does bowl - or it could just have been a topspinner, or a ball that just doesn't spin or a ball that was supposed to spin but didn't.
Australia had prepped for him. They'd watched the videos and done their research (were they aware of his singing capabilities though?) but the only thing was they weren't playing him off a laptop. They reckoned it was the bounce that did for them, although truthfully, it looked like Asif did for them with bounce, dip, break, angle, pace, line, length and probably yeah, other than that they played him just fine.
Somebody watched him get dismissed in the first innings swiping across the line and concluded that he's not a Test cricketer. Not wondered, as a question, but concluded. It's true that his more notable work till now has been in T20s and ODIs. But what a precious way to be, to think that Test cricket is some privilege only certain types of cricketers are entitled to.
Bilal Asif may never play another Test again. He may never take another Test wicket again but he'll be damned if you tell him he's no Test cricketer. Six Test wickets - and possibly more to come - on debut is from now on the answer to every question ever asked of Bilal Asif.