Old-timers gathering at their favourite corner of the ground too casually compare cricketers of their time with those of now.
“How would Derek Shackleton fare today?” was the question Third Man recently overheard.
“Too slow.” “Needed uncovered wickets.” “Couldn’t cope with the Twenty20 circus.” The consensus grew that he simply wouldn’t have the pace for 2010.
Third Man has been too busy watching live cricket to see anything of the Pakistani visitors. He was aware that there is a good young left-arm opening bowler among them, but until yesterday he wouldn’t have been able to tell his Amir from his Asif.
Then, with drizzle keeping him in and a strange lull in his son’s fixtures and transport requirements, he flicked on the T.V. in time to watch Mohammed Asif bowling to Trott and Pietersen yesterday afternoon.
And there, as if he were back at the U.S. Ground in Portsmouth or the old County Ground in Southampton … yes there on the TV screen he saw the familiar grooved approach, the right arm rising, elbow uppermost like the end of a shepherd’s crook and the easy rhythmical action as that arm descends and circles to the point of release and on through the action like velveteen.
The years rolled back. The ball moved one way and then the other at between 77.5 and 77.99999 miles an hour unnerving and perplexing each batsman in their turn.
At 4.30pm Sky showed the Asif pitch map against both the right and left handers for his nine or so overs at that stage of the innings. 95% of all his deliveries were clustered well into the ‘good length’ area like a well judged shove ha’penny lying comfortably within the etched confines of a shovel board’s bed.
And there was just one very short, but white (wicket-taking) ball with which he had apparently bamboozled Cook into mis-hooking the ball behind his ears to be caught at slip.
Third Man watched enchanted by the tempo, the cadence of this very fine bowler as Pietersen came down the wicket to disrupt his accuracy, only to be pinned back and foxed again and again, wafting a blade vainly as the ball travelled through to the keeper or hurried by unexpected pace and bounce off the wicket.
It would seem that Third Man has not just been out of touch with Pakistani cricket for a week or two. This man, TM has since learnt, has already taken 100 Test match wickets and served ‘time’ for drug offences.
He writes, “Asif’s bowling soul is that of the craftsman. It is this craft, the chiselling away at men’s techniques, the chipping of their resolve, deceptions in line, length, seam, that holds him, that he cannot stop thinking about. Dismissals are built, nurtured over time, over by over, session by session, with nip n’ tuck, then put away, zealously guarded in his head until the next encounter.”
Third Man has since caught up with the story of this bowler and considers it such a pity that Asif did not have a Vic Canning with whom to learn his craft rather than a Shoaib Akhtar.
In cricket as in life there are faults that can easily be forgiven and others than cannot, but ‘Judge Not Lest Ye be Judged’ is a maxim that can serve a pilgrim well along the way.
It is enough that he demonstrates arts that many thought were lost.
So, if Third Man had known all this when he’d heard that discussion about Derek Shackleton, he could have answered firmly, ‘If you want to know how Shack would have faired today, just look at Asif Mohammed.”
However, Leo Harrison would have stood up to the wicket for him and Shack would only have come to the notice of the ‘authorities’ if they had been looking for pure Virginian tobacco.