'The dream is to come back and play for three to four years'

Mohammad Asif is playing club cricket in Scandinavia as he strives for a Pakistan comeback and to rebuild his career in the wake of the spot-fixing scandal

Tim Wigmore
Tim Wigmore
Mohammad Asif speaks at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, August 26, 2015

"I am 100% sure I will play again"  •  AFP

The Christiania Cricket Club in Oslo is an incongruous setting in which to plot a Test match comeback. While Mohammad Amir has just arrived in England, six years after the spot-fixing scandal, his Test-bowling partner in 2010, Mohammad Asif, has come to Norway.
"One of my friends called me to ask me to come and play some cricket," Asif says. "There's good weather for training - that's why I came here.
"The cricketing standard is not too high but it's still cricket.
"You can't get spikes on! It's not a proper pitch for cricket. I'm enjoying playing here and working on my fitness levels." The conditions, far removed from those he is used to, are "tough for bowling".
Asif should be in the prime of his career, not worrying about his footwear in Oslo, but he has his own mistakes to blame for it. Having already been punished for twice testing positive for steroids, and been imprisoned in Dubai for being caught travelling with a recreational drug, he deliberately bowled a no-ball, allegedly in exchange for £65,000, at Lord's in 2010. He was later handed a one-year prison sentence, and his ban from cricket only ended last year.
"That was a very difficult time but difficult times pass. Now I'm okay. It was three years ago," he says. "That's in the past, I don't want to talk too much about that. I just want to play cricket." When asked if he would like to apologise to the fans, having only admitted his guilt in 2013, his riposte is: "I have already done that in Pakistan many times."
True as that might be, it is a long way removed from the ostentatious contrition of Amir. Still, Asif does not complain about the length of his ban. "I wasn't the judge, it's up to the judges."
While Amir will be playing in Pakistan's series in England, Asif will be following it from afar. "I'm happy for him, and for my team it's a big tour in England. England are playing well now, but we've got a good bowling side - better than Sri Lanka's - so hopefully Amir, Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz will give England a tough time."
It is only six years since Asif was ranked the No. 2 Test bowler in the world, behind Dale Steyn. Amir's selection for Pakistan's Test squad has given Asif belief that he can return too. The unlikely sojourn to Oslo is a way of beginning the Pakistan season in prime condition. "Hopefully I will do well in Pakistan and get selected for the national team for the tours to New Zealand and Australia." He declares himself "100% sure I will play again".
These upcoming tours would seem to suit his skills well. "In the Sydney Test in 2010, I got 6 for 41. This is my best memory: it was a great achievement against Australia, especially in Australia." Pakistan play a Test at the SCG next January. And, as Asif points out, he also has a fine record in New Zealand, having taken 19 wickets in Pakistan's tour there in 2009.
That Asif can envisage returning at the age of 33 is a reflection not just of his self-belief but of the chicanery of his wrists. At his peak, he was able to move new ball and old alike prodigiously both ways, and relentlessly cunning in his plotting of dismissals. The sight of a batsman leaving the ball emphatically, imagining it far too wide to imperil the stumps, only to be left clean bowled and gormless, was an Asif trademark. He once rued snaring AB de Villiers too early, because the wicket came before Asif had time to complete his master plan.
"It's quite difficult after five years to come down and bowl fast, but I'm a different kind of bowler. I'm not like a 100-mile bowler - I'm more dependent on swing and seam, they're my main weapons," he says. "My pace was always 130 or 135 kph. This is a good pace for swing. I just need good fitness."
Keeping in shape has been a challenge. "I got a schedule from the Pakistan cricket academy trainer, so I'm working hard on that and my fitness is getting better day by day." He has yet to prove he has the stamina to bowl through the day in a first-class match: Asif's ban was not lifted in time for him to play in Pakistan's first-class season last year. His performances in the National One Day Cup were reasonable enough without imploring the selectors to pick him: seven wickets at 27 apiece. But he was not picked up by any of the five teams in either the Pakistan Super League or the Pakistan Cup, an indication of the challenges he faces if he is to push for a Test recall, even if the first-class game has always been his best format.
Yet the fact that Pakistan invited Asif to train alongside their national squad at the academy gives an indication that the prospect of a comeback is not outlandish. He says he got on "very well" with the side. "It was the same as before 2010 happened. I have the same relationship with them."
Asif believes that he can make a fulfilling return to international cricket and so go a little way towards redeeming his career from the stain of Lord's 2010: he remains 294 Test wickets shy of the 400 that Barry Richards predicted for him. "The dream is just to come back to play for three to four years. I want to play a good standard of cricket again - that's my dream."
It would be a comeback altogether more divisive than Amir's. While Amir could invoke naivety as an 18-year-old in 2010, Asif was already a seasoned international cricketer. "After five years there are many hurdles in front of you," he reflects. "I'm looking to the future, not the past. Those things have happened and it's gone, so I'm looking forward to playing good cricket."
He has already begun to be involved in anti-corruption work. "I've admitted my mistakes. We do lectures in Pakistan with young kids," he says. He has also offered his services to the ICC. "Whenever they want me to go somewhere and lecture about corruption, I'm available. They haven't asked me yet at the moment, but I told them I will help anytime, whenever they want."
For Asif, the time to discuss past wrongs has gone. "Every human being can make mistakes. They've given us punishment and after the punishment everybody has a right to play. Cricket is my life." Now he wants to embarrass batsmen with his dexterous wrists once more. "In my hands the ball will talk, not me."

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts