Abbas, the new Asif? stats say so


Pakistani fast bowler Muhammad Abbas levelled the record of most Test wickets by Pakistani bowlers after first seven tickets.

According to stats posted by cricket analyst Mazhar Arshad: “Most wickets for Pakistan in first 7 Tests

37 Mohammad Abbas

37 Mohammad Asif

37 Yasir Shah,

34 Abdur Rehman,

33 Shabbir Ahmed

Abbas has 9 more wickets to play with.

Furthermore, it is been said that Abbas is new Asif. According to a report by Cricinfo, #Abbasif – is it too soon?

In case you’re not Pakistani, or not on social media (the modern equivalent of existing under a rock,) a quick explainer for the origin of that uni-name: Mohammad Abbas + Mohammad Asif = Abbasif.

The rest falls into place. Two Pakistani fast bowlers who are not about being fast; two Pakistani fast bowlers who tease out reactions from pitches where others don’t; two Pakistani fast bowlers who do things in the air when the conditions are right; two Pakistani fast bowlers who hit the seam; two Pakistani fast bowlers in whom the set-ups are more the pay-offs than the actual pay-offs; even two Pakistani fast bowlers who have played for Leicestershire; so, Abbasif.

In truth Abbasif is more about Asif and the eternal yearning for the new Asif than it is about Abbas, because though Asif is still alive and bowling, he has acquired the air of the rock star who died at 27 and so no one can ever really be the new Asif.

But if you’re into comparing bowlers by the broad strokes of their modus operandi – and who among us isn’t? – then yes, Abbas does work in similar ways to Asif. But because he does it with the general bearing of Rao Iftikhar Anjum it means of course that he is not Asif at all.

Break down his first wicket of the day. Mark Stoneman was worked over and owned so thoroughly over the course of the 12 balls Abbas bowled to him it felt like a real-life, real-time trolling.

Three balls in the first over – including the very first – straightened back into Stoneman, which, given the direction of the slope from the Nursery End is the natural thing. Except the first one did so much it could only have spooked an opener already under pressure. The other three balls were generally angled across him, though one jagged away noticeably and as that was against the slope, some more spookery.

The next over he kept doing it: attacking Stoneman with the angle across, occasionally and fractionally moving it away, and wide of off stump. In order, he forced him to play, to play again, let him leave, beat his edge and let him leave. In other words, he was scrambling his mind. Where would it pitch, what would be its shape, which way would it move, would it move at all, when would it come at the stumps?

And then the final ball, a ball so good it ended up scrambling the minds of those watching – which was an out-and-out Asif leitmotif. What just happened? Did it move and if so, which way, did it just go straight, did it wobble in the air and wriggle off the pitch, did it beat him on the inside, outside, up, down, sideways, was it even real? Eventually the haze cleared. It had somehow sneaked in between bat and pad, which means from the angle, it must have moved back in. Yes? No? Maybe? Who knows?

The whole thing was a piece of work, a beautiful death so long as you weren’t the one dying.

But the grand theatre of the Asif swindle was missing, the very clear signs we all understood when Asif was on one that, oh boy somebody’s going to look like a fool soon and it’s not going to be the guy with the magic wrists.

Asif would clap batsmen when they hit cover drives. With some send-offs – like an acclaimed one among his fans to Ed Joyce – he communicated how little he valued an opponent. The story goes he was once annoyed at getting a batsman out when he did because he wanted to play around with him a little longer.

He’d take offence that you thought he set a batsman up over the matter of a few deliveries. He’d been doing it for overs didn’t you get it? You watched him some days for his wrists alone and think about this – we’re saying here that he made wrists sexy and the only thing in the whole history of humanity that has done that is the watch.

None of this comes from watching Abbas. But the thing he does do is to consistently hit that length of death to which some batsmen think the right response is to play forward and others think is to hang back and both leave not knowing who was right.

Seventy-two of the 84 balls he bowled today were classified as either good length or full and most likely the majority were in between. Three of his four dismissals didn’t involve fielders and in a small career so far, 20 of 36 have not. In these facts, noted Wasim Akram later in the day, is the realest jhalak– or glimpse – of Asif. Footnote: it is Akram who was proudest of the dismissal of Stoneman, having worked with Abbas at Multan Sultans to make him move the ball away from a left-hander.

That Stoneman dismissal was important because it set the tone for an unexpectedly rich day for Pakistan. Hasan Ali stole the highlights, Mohammad Amir got the biggest wicket with the ball of the day, and even Faheem Ashraf helped them all out by being Faheem Ashraf.

Abbas shuffled along around them, in the spotlight, but not really of it. Which is something you would never have said about Asif.