When he made his debut, over a year ago against Australia, little in his 18 overs suggested that Mohammad Asif would soon become the leading candidate among a group of Pakistani pace bowlers pushing in from the fringes of the national team. Ten wickets against England in a warm-up game pushed him closer but with Mohammad Sami and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan dropped and Umar Gul not picked, Asif's chance has finally come in this series. In that time, he has, in Bob Woolmer's words, been the most improved bowler of the lot and though an inert Faisalabad pitch revealed only slithers of that, the grass of Karachi strengthens that assessment.
Surprisingly confident while attending the end of day press conference, Asif suggested his debut might have come too early. "I learned a lot after making my Test debut. I did not know much about how to bowl in Tests then as I had only played domestic cricket at the time. But since then I have had a lot of help and the pre-tour camp, with people like Bob Woolmer and Waqar Younis, has also helped a lot."
By dismissing Zaheer Khan to end the Indian innings, he finished with four wickets, three of whom make for glittering victims. Yesterday, by dismissing Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, he had showed an intelligent mind, by bowling a nine-over spell this morning, he displayed a willing body too. Dravid's wicket in particular was cherished; having beaten him once already, he caught his edge by angling one in and straightening it a fraction. "Dravid's wicket was special because he is such a great player. If there is one batsman in the side whose wicket is really important, it is him. I like bowling to batsmen like Dravid who allow you to settle into a line, unlike a Sehwag with whom you can never settle into one line," he said.
Laxman's dismissal - bowled by a fast, sharply-cutting off-break - also had its roots in Faisalabad and only slightly less special. "I tried to beat him in similar fashion at Faisalabad but the ball did not dart in as sharp as it did here. I had been planning to get him that way and here the pitch helped."
Since his debut, Asif has also altered his action slightly although it retains an ease of movement about it. "I used to fall away too much on one side after releasing the ball. I worked with Waqar on it and although I still do now, it isn't as much as before." He was sent as one of a clutch of Pakistani fast bowlers to the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai last year although he isn't sure how much that has contributed to his improvement. "I was only there for ten days so I am not sure how much of a difference it has really made."
Something though has clearly made a difference in the last year and with Pakistan pulling themselves into a position of some strength by the close of play, Asif's role in this match is far from complete.