Photo by Sarah Ansell
As in ‘returned’. What else would the word ‘back’ mean in that context? It’s not like there’s an ambiguous apostrophe-S in there or anything.
Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif both played for Water and Power Development Authority against Federally Administered Tribal Areas in one of those somehat fictional sounding domestic fixtures in which Pakistan specialises. Butt made a ton.
Back when Asif, Butt and Mohammad Amir were banned, we wrote that a reformed cricketer would acknowledge wrongdoing and accept a fitting punishment that would serve the greater good of the sport. Whether you believe him or not, this is pretty much what Amir did. The other two, less so.
Butt spent most of his ban denying that he did anything, while Asif is just a dick and therefore saw no real need to apologise or seek redemption. As far as we can tell, he simply doesn’t care. He probably passed his time away from the sport shoplifting from charity shops and throwing his plunder into the river in a bid to clog it up.
Despite the protestations of some of his team-mates, Amir is now returning to the Pakistan side. The selectors said they went purely on ability in making their decision. By that rationale, it surely can’t be long before his one-time new ball partner also makes a return. Amir was good, but he was hit and miss. Asif, as unpalatable as it may be, was always better.
We’ve already made it clear that we would never accept money to underperform, but if we were that sort of person, the court case involving Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif would make us think again.
At the time of writing, Butt has been found guilty of conspiracy to cheat and of conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments. Mohammad Asif has been found guilty of conspiracy to cheat and the jury are still considering the second charge.
Butt could, in theory, get seven years in prison. You would think that might actually prove a deterrent to at least some of the spot-fixers out there.
The players involved in spot-fixing seem to move in a world where it’s not considered that big a deal. Well, seven years in prison says otherwise in a loud, clear, insistent and slightly hectoring voice.
The idea that the sport’s governing body might (but probably wouldn’t) catch you and ban you for a year is one thing, but this is something else. This is real-life punishment. Shame it took a newspaper of questionable morals and the British legal system to make an example of someone.
Those following the court case involving Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif will have seen a lot of eye-catching headlines. The agent at the centre of all this is Mazhar Majeed. He is, frankly, a bit of a knobhead.
The thing is, most of the headlines derive from things Majeed said when he was boasting to undercover News of the World reporters. When he said that Wasim and Waqar took payments to fix events in cricket matches, he wasn’t saying he was directly involved, he was just saying ‘this kind of thing happens’ and then he lists some famous names to make it sound more normal. The reference to Australians is another attempt to make the practice sound more common that it probably was.
Maybe there is something in it. Maybe Ricky Ponting regularly bats out maidens and pockets some cash for his troubles. Maybe Wasim and Waqar deliberately underperformed in every match they played (ponder that for a moment). The thing is, thus far the evidence amounts to the idle words of a knobhead and we’re not going to get too worked up until there’s something more than that.
People are idiots. That’s a rule that pretty much always stands up to scrutiny. Put people in a position where there’s a choice to make and they will naturally veer towards the stupid option by default.
Even so, some options are sufficiently stupid that most of us don’t take them. With a huge, heavy Le Creuset pan full of curry in the oven, you can either take it out with your bare hands or you can put on the oven gloves. Most people will go for the oven gloves.
The remaining people can be split into two further subcategories. There are people who scald their hands and think “Christ, I’m never doing that again” and then there are a very small number of people who try and return the pan to the oven bare-handed after stirring the contents.
The latter are the people who can’t be helped. Simply sit them down in front of ITV1 and just pray that they don’t ever attempt to do anything again in the whole of the rest of their lives. We’re pretty sure that Mohammad Asif fits into this category. If he lost a finger in a Philips blender, he would probably still need to be told to keep his hand out of an active Kenwood blender.
Mohammad Amir, on the other hand, is hopefully the kind of man who only needs to sear his fingertips the once and he deserves a chance to prove it. A five year ban is a long time out of the game, but you can’t appreciate the significance of a second chance without knowing there were consequences when you stuffed up the first time.
And Salman Butt?
We’re not sure where we stand on him. Older than Amir, but not that old, criticism of him seems to revolve around the fact that he should have known better because he’s ‘smart’ or something. Well clearly he isn’t that smart because he’s just been banned from cricket for a decade. Middle-class people who speak good English can be pretty damn thick as well and maybe they too should be allowed the opportunity to take or spurn a second chance.
If Amir or Butt are ever to take a second chance, they could start by acknowledging one thing – that those bans are not merely punishment for themselves; more importantly, they are a deterrent to others. A reformed cricketer would acknowledge wrongdoing and accept a fitting punishment that would serve the greater good of the sport.
Is there any chance of that?
If you actually enjoy cricket, you can’t help but have enjoyed watching Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Aamer and Umar Gul bowl yesterday. It was better than spoon meat and carbonated dipping jam.
That they bowled Australia out for 88 was something of a bonus. Quite simply, this was cricket LIKE IT’S MEANT TO BE. These three bowlers actually had a choice as to what they did with the ball, swinging it in and out and seaming it as well. They didn’t just ‘put it in the right areas’ hoping for the best. They had plans, they were devious and they were flat-out ace.
It makes it so much more interesting. What will the next ball do? How will the batsman cope? There was no ‘plugging away outside off’. There was no ‘waiting for the bad ball’. There was an actual battle going on out there because for once it wasn’t a batsman with a tank and air strikes against a bowler with a blindfold on and his knees tied together.
It was Test cricket.
Picking the bowlers was much harder than picking the batsmen and all-rounders. We’re not going to pretend that we’re 100% happy with what we’ve come up with because that would be dishonest and we save the dishonesty for getting out of social events.
Dale Steyn, South Africa, age 26
We’ve still not quite worked out how someone so spindly can be so quick. The fastest bowlers do tend to be whippy, flexible beasts, but even allowing for that, Steyn still looks a bit malnourished. Being quick AND being able to swing the ball makes him more rounded than other bowlers.
Mohammad Asif, Pakistan, 26
There are a lot of variables here. As long as Mohammad Asif can stay fit and stay out of trouble and as long as Pakistan actually get to play against other people; as long as all that happens he’ll take wickets by the big-receptacle-load.
Ajantha Mendis, Sri Lanka, 24
You have to do something a bit mental to get batsmen out on today’s pitches. Even if people work out the mental deliveries Mendis uses at present, he seems like the type who’d just invent another one. Will get lots of wickets with slow, straight deliveries that will confuse batsmen predicting sorcery.
Ishant Sharma, India, 21
Has been a bit ropey of late, but anyone who can make mincemeat out of Ricky Ponting when they’re 19 doesn’t need to improve too much. Ridiculously, he’s still only 21.
Also, just a note to say that the bowler we’re perhaps most excited about, Mohammad Aamer, is more of a bowler for the next 15 years, not the next five. We’re giving him time.
As for the Aussies, they’re all good and all about the right age, but none really stands out. It’s more that we couldn’t pick one in particular than that we couldn’t pick any.
This is quite unusual. We’re not usually right about stuff. Normally, you can ask us questions about things that have happened to us and we’ll get the answers wrong.
“Did Dan tell you he was moving to Australia?”
“No!” [Long pause] “Don’t think so.” [Another long pause] “Well, maybe…”
- Dwayne Bravo – 104 v Australia
- Mohammad Asif – 4-40 v New Zealand
- Mahendra Dhoni – 100 not out v Sri Lanka
Maybe we’re only wrong when being right relies on the retention of information.
You all think that you’ve got nothing to say about Mohammad Asif – but you have. You wouldn’t have been able to stop yourself from commenting if we’d actually said what we meant to say.
International cricket is like being stuck in a shit bar that’s got too much chrome in it and no good beers. The bowlers are the beers.
After a few minutes of looking, you eventually notice there are some bottles of Leffe in the fridge. It’s not what you want, but it’s drinkable and it’s a better option than bland European lager or frigging Strongbow. Mohammad Asif is a bottle of Leffe.
This would make Ajit Agarkar a six quid cocktail that tastes like it’s made out of tequila, syrup and sick.
If you like cricket, as opposed to just enjoying boundaries, it’s been a tough decade or so. We’re always on the lookout for bowlers who can redress the balance and actually make life difficult for batsmen. Very few are able to do that.
A few years ago, we got quite excited about Mohammad Asif. At first, he justified this excitement, playing cricket from a different age. Later, a series of events led us to conclude that, actually, Mohammad Asif is a dick.
This week he’s returned to Test cricket and despite having several years off, he’s still Pakistan’s best bowler. We’ve got to weigh our hatred of batsmen against our hatred of people who are dicks. Maybe it’s the fact that India and Sri Lanka have conspired to create consecutive innings totals of 426, 760-7, 412-4 and 642 in their current Test series, but, on balance, we hate batsmen more.
Go Mohammad Asif.
That was what we wrote as a little aide memoire to ourself and we see no reason not to use it as the title of this post.
Mohammad Asif has again tested positive for ‘banned substances’. Rumour has it that traces of finest unobtainium showed up in his urine. Unobtainium is outlawed because it’s too valuable to eat and it makes you glow like the Ready Brek kid.
Asif was rather leniently treated the first time he tested positive. He got a one year ban which was subsequently overturned, seemingly for the reason that he was a bit naive, which isn’t really any kind of a defence.
Now he’s tested positive again. The stupid thing is that Asif would probably be a world-class bowler without medication. He’s a line and length bowler with a lot of guile. He’s not a pace bowler who relies on searing pace or anything. It’s so needless.
Cricket needs its bowlers. It could lose a batsman or 20 with no ill-effects, but there are so few bowlers with real impact. Mohammad Asif was one, but unfortunately it seems that he’s also an idiot.