Mohammad Asif tells Saj Sadiq why bowlers should study Mohammad Abbas and how the in-form seamer can force his way into Pakistan’s ODI side, plus looks at the travails of Australia and Mohammad Amir…
All the talk before the two-Test series between Pakistan and Australia in the UAE had been of spin being the deciding factor with all eyes on Yasir Shah and Nathan Lyon.
However, when the series ended in an emphatic Pakistan victory in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan seamer Mohammad Abbas was named Player of the Series with 17 wickets to his name.
Not only did he shock the Australian batsmen with his medium-pace artistry, lethal accuracy, nagging length and swing bowling, he also confounded his critics who considered him nothing more than a player who could only succeed in bowler-friendly conditions.
One man who understands the value of Abbas’ style of bowling is Pakistan’s Mohammad Asif, who was delighted when Abbas mentioned him as a role model.
“I was a little taken aback but felt honoured when Abbas mentioned me as an influence on his bowling when he could have easily mentioned the likes of the legendary Wasim Akram,” said Asif.
“What I am really pleased with, though, is the fact that Abbas has been taking my advice ever since the days he played alongside me in first-class cricket for Khan Research Laboratories.
“I am happy that he continues to be a hard-working bowler and is also making good use of what he learnt from me and taken on board the advice I gave him.”
Some might consider it hype but what Abbas has achieve since his Test debut against the Windies is phenomenal. That said, Asif feels Abbas will need to improve on certain aspects of his bowling.
“There is no doubt that Abbas did well in the UAE where he bowled wicket-to-wicket and did not give time to the batsmen to adjust. This was probably the reason they could not play him that well
“However, at the moment, he is relying mainly on inswing and he will need to also add outswing into his arsenal as I did not see much evidence of that in the Test series against Australia.
“But he is a good learner and is always asking me for advice on improvements to his bowling and I will be speaking to him again soon about what else he can do to become an even better bowler.
“This is important because if you aren’t a quick learner then you can find yourself out of the national side very quickly if you don’t have the ability to adjust to different conditions.”
“Right now he has had a few good series but what I would really like him to do is to repeat similar performances against New Zealand and South Africa and inclusion in Pakistan’s ODI team would also be a good idea.
“He cannot rest on his laurels and he needs to constantly work on increasing his skill levels to remain at the top.
“If he does wish to be considered for all three formats of the game, then his fitness levels need to be top notch. I would love to work with him to improve his skills and especially on improving his outswing.”
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For Pakistan, the days of Shoaib Akhtar hurtling down 150kmph thunderbolts are long gone, with very few bowlers able to come near the express pace he possessed. Asif, though, says the intelligence behind each delivery is what sets class bowlers apart.
“There haven’t been too many express fast bowlers like Shoaib who have been quick, skilful and intelligent. He knew how to scare the batsman and how to use the new and old balls to good effect, but he was also very clever and that is something that I feel is lacking with some modern-day bowlers.
“We now have some bowlers who are just satisfied at seeing the batsmen ducking and satisfied and the wicketkeeper taking the ball at head height. I suggest they watch Abbas and learn from the line and length he bowls.
“Fast bowling isn’t just about running in and bowling as quick as you can, it’s about subtle changes, it’s about those slight adjustments that make all the difference. It’s like a game of chess and out-thinking your opponent, working out their next move and being one step ahead of the batsman.
“I am not saying that speed does matter entirely because when your speed is low, the ball will not swing that effectively and the batsman can manage the bowler with ease.
“However, if you look at the case of Abbas against Australia, you will see that he didn’t bowl very quick but what he did well was to know his strengths and bowl within those limitations to get maximum benefit.
“I gave Abbas a piece of advice in the past which was simply this: ‘You do not have to bowl fast enough to get the ball flying to the wicket-keeper. Your main objective is to get the ball directed at the three stumps. How well you do it is based upon pitching the ball consistently in the right areas and that is what you need to work hard at’.
“When I used to bowl in international cricket, I was never quick through the air, but the ball would gather speed after it hit the pitch and that is what the batsmen had difficulty coping with. That is what Abbas’ strength is.”
Australia were without Steve Smith and David Warner and while they rew the first Test, their capitulation in the second was surprising for Asif, who expected better from the visitors.
“I am shocked by the quality of the Australian side. It seems that this side was miles away from the quality of players that used to play for Australia such as the likes of the Waugh brothers, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee.
“They had batsmen like Damien Martyn, who would caress good balls to the boundary with such finesse that the bowler would be left wondering about what the problem was with the delivery in the first place.
“What Australia seemed to have chosen for the series was similar to a bunch of school-kids who thought they were on a fun trip and not a Test tour.”
The Mohammad Amir enigma, meanwhile, is one that is puzzling many observers. He has fallen from the status of leader of the pack to a player who now finds himself playing domestic cricket to try and regain a place in the international side.
The 26-year-old seems to be a shadow of his former self and, to Asif, the blame lies not just with the bowler but also with the advice he is getting.
“I have noted some slight changes in Amir’s bowling action in recent times which is why he is not getting that swing that he used to get before.
“I would love to speak to Amir to let him know what he needs to work upon but the highly-paid coaches that the Pakistan side employs should be the ones advising Amir on these issues not me.
“It’s the job of the bowling coach of the team to work with Amir and say: ‘Look, we have some free time now, let’s try and improve your bowling’ but that is not happening.
“What is clear to me about Amir is that he needs to work harder so that he either becomes an express fast bowler or can get the swing back into his bowling.
“What I have seen from him in recent times is a bowler who was trying to bowl to stay safe and not to attack the batsman. This puts pressure on the back-up bowlers and that cannot be good for the team.
“There is no doubt that he bowled really well in the Champions Trophy final where he got a lot of swing which he has not been able to repeat. This is a point to ponder for Amir and for him to ask himself why he is unable to get that swing in his bowling. He will need to do that before it’s too late.
“I want him to be the attacking bowler he once was and not the defensive bowler he has been turned into.”