Mohammad Asif’s Strange Alchemy

During Day 1 against Australia, Mohammad Asif proved to the world, yet again, why even if you stack drug charges, discipline issues and woeful fielding on one side against him, he still weighs more. In one over, he took Simon Katich and Marcus North — the first fell to a ball that seamed away, the second to one that came in.

But how did he do it? The replays showed both balls delivered with the same wrist and seam positions (and it wasn’t clear on which side the shiny surface lay). Michael Holding, looking at the evidence, recounted how a batsman once told him that bowlers usually have no clue how they get wickets (implying that luck and chance happeneth to us all). Holding’s theory made sense coming from a bowler; he responded that as long as you put the ball in the right length and the right line, the little magical elves that lie on a pitch or hang in the air will do their path to deliver cosmic justice.

I like that idea a lot, since it goes to the heart of this blog’s thesis (cricket is about fate and chance; a long parable about the limits of human agency and modernity). But it’s also a huge bummer, right? At one point, Holding even insisted that the great Shane Warne would confess he didn’t know why certain balls he bowled did what they did. Right, fair enough, but I like to think Asif does know why he can bowl balls that always come back off the pitch, and bowl others that do nothing at all.

Either way, I’ll say this: Asif — better than marijuana.

One thought on “Mohammad Asif’s Strange Alchemy

  1. achettup says:

    Hmm… I cringe when I hear remarks like that because it to some extent means there is far more emphasis on superstition and luck than there is on science. They never fail to remind me of Kapil Dev’s infamous “What is contrast swing? When we played, we used the heart and spirit not rocket science” comments. To some extent these are understandable sentiments because formers players have experienced a cricket ball doing something other than they expect it to, sometimes for better sometimes for worse. I always believe that as a professional you should be able to land the ball at the exact spot you target and get the a fairly close if not exact amount of spin/swing/seam as you were expecting to after assessing conditions (so maybe not always in your first over). The only variable that should affect this is the ball’s wear and tear characteristics which affect the aerodynamics, out of the bowlers control I used to think but thanks to some insightful blogs from Aakash Chopra it would seem even these can be controlled pretty effectively. Amateurs on the other hand should be more or less likely to hope hitting a good spot and expecting luck to take over from there. I’d honestly be disappointed to find out Shane Warne didn’t know exactly how much spin he would get out of the ball for more than 95% of the deliveries he bowled, it would imply he honestly didn’t plan exactly how to deceive a batsman and is a most unfair judgment.
    It was when a professional bowler (Imran Khan) noticed that on occasion the ball swung the other way and brought this to the attention of an aerodynamicist that a study on reverse swing was able to conclude exactly what the differences between conventional and reverse swing were, how the bowler’s speed affects this and the the role wear and tear had on the cricket ball. Not many people know this but you can get a brand new ball to reverse if you are able to hit exceptional speeds, the kinds of which haven’t yet been recorded on a cricket field. The trouble is so many so called experts on commentary have either a fear for or shun science and still refer to just about any ball that “swings late” as reverse swing, I still receive links to youtube videos in my inbox every once in a while to show how some of the game’s greats are unable to differentiate the different kinds of swing (and yes, Michael Holding is one of these men).
    Asif has slowed down a lot, but at his pace it is unlikely that he will get reverse swing unless the ball is really messed up. That doesn’t mean swing is the only weapon in his arsenal (or that he can’t extract two different types of swing.. there are still the options of contrast swing and conventional) since there are still a plenitude of options in seam movement and cutters.
    One other thing I noticed was Umar Gul’s yorker to Doug Bollinger, bowled a good 10-12kmph quicker than his stock ball… changing up in speed is a lot rarer today than bowling the slower ball. It is interesting because, as Nathan Bracken showed in the 2007 ODI World Cup, controlling you pace is essential to extract the right amount of swing and sometimes you actually have to bowl slower than you are capable to get the right swing of a certain line and length. This allows bouncers and yorkers to be bowled at your fastest pace as excellent surprise deliveries. When commentators like Holding attribute all of this luck they are doing their craft a great disservice.

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