Asif, Aamer - Pak's pace hopes face biggest battle

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Barely a week ago, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif were described as &quot;two jewels in Pakistan's crown&quot; as the pair demolished England at The Oval.

Updated: August 30, 2010 12:14 IST
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Barely a week ago, pacemen Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif were described as "two jewels in Pakistan's crown" as the pair demolished England at The Oval.

They bowled in tandem to carry on their good work from Leeds where they had helped deliver Pakistan's first win over Australia in 15 years.

Coach Waqar Younis was full of praise.

"They are an amazing pair, one complements the other and both are progressing. It's wonderful to see them bowl in tandem," said Waqar, whose own pairing with Wasim Akram was touted as one of the game's most lethal partnerships.

But allegations of corruption have suddenly cast a dark shadow over their careers.

On Sunday, both Asif and Aamer were among several Pakistan players who were questioned over allegations of spot-fixing after British police confirmed the arrest of a 35-year-old man, believed to be the 'fixer' at the heart of the crisis.

Police acted on reports in the News of the World which claimed no-balls were delivered to order during Pakistan's record innings and 225-run defeat in the fourth Test at Lord's, which gave England a 3-1 series victory.

The 18-year-old Aamer, who in England's only innings at Lord's claimed a career best six wickets, still has his supporters.

"I am very disappointed for Aamer, who is just 18 and I hope that he comes out of this mess," said former chief selector Iqbal Qasim, who heads the National Bank's sports department for which both pacemen feature in Pakistan's domestic league.

Asif, by contrast, is no stranger to controversy.

The 26-year-old's career has had more lows than highs.

He went wicketless on his debut Test at Perth but claimed 11 wickets in a match against England in 2005 and seven in Pakistan's win over India a year later.

A lucrative contract with Leicestershire in the English county championship did more damage to his career than good.

"Asif was so overwhelmed by the amount paid to him that he went wayward and lost track," said a close family friend.

Asif, along with fellow new-ball partner Shoaib Akhtar, tested positive for a banned steroid in 2006.

Asif was banned for one year and Akhtar for two years, sanctions overturned on appeal.

But many felt the Pakistan Cricket Board's decision to overturn the ban was a mistake.

Asif again failed a positive test in the inaugural Indian Premier League season in 2008.

This time a two-year ban and failed appeal followed.

He suffered more misery when returning from the IPL he was arrested at Dubai airport for possessing a banned drug.

He was detained for 19 days only to be deported after the police found the quantity of the banned drug "insufficient" to pursue a case.

Even after the IPL ban ended, Asif's career was hit by a scandal with a film star, who alleged he owed her huge amounts of money in debts.

But once Asif was selected for the tour of New Zealand and Australia he promised he had reformed.

"I have had enough," Asif said in November last year. "Now I want to focus on my career and want to become the world's best bowler."

Compared to Australian great Glenn McGrath for his accurate pace, Asif fulfilled his promise and in recent months has risen to the top of the International Cricket Council bowlers' rankings.

Aamer's only similarity with Asif is his humble, remote background.

Like Asif, who hails from the small village of Machikay near Lahore, the left-arm sensation comes from Gujjar Khan village.

He came through Pakistan's Under-19 side and impressed with his swing and pace, attributes which led to experts comparing him with former Pakistan left-arm great Wasim Akram.

"I am amazed the way Aamer has progressed. He has pace and swing and is cleverer than I was at 18," Wasim said after Aamer took four wickets against Australia in a Test at Lord's last month.

However, the lack of grooming, guidance and sudden fame may have proved to be a lethal cocktail.

"For the sake of Pakistan cricket I hope the players come out of this mess, for the sake of the two jewels in Pakistan's crown," said Qasim. 

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