Comeback kid turns up the pressure on England

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The Independent Online

It was a bad day all round for England yesterday. First their attack was damned with faint praise by their former bowling coach, Troy Cooley, as the Ashes war of words was stepped up.

Then their batsmen ran into a heap of trouble at the hands of the Pakistani fast bowler Mohammad Asif - and Umar Gul - who both picked up four wickets to help rout the hosts for 173. Considering that just last week it looked as if Asif would be left out of this final Test it was quite some performance, suggesting that had the other two Pakistani strike bowlers - Shoaib Akhtar and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan - been fit, then this series could well have taken an entirely different turn.

Because there is no doubt that for all his rawness, Asif is certainly effective, swinging the ball both ways at a challenging enough pace - around the mid-80mph mark - as well as getting the ball to move off the seam.

But England must have known what to expect, since they ran into him at the start of last winter when he turned out for Pakistan A in a warm-up match at Lahore. On that occasion Asif sliced the heart out of the England first innings finishing with 7 for 62 and three further victims in the second took his match return to 10 for 106.

Somehow, though, Asif did not make it into the Test team; he had to wait until January before making his debut, against Australia in Sydney. It was an inauspicious start with not a single wicket in the defeat. But he made up for it in his next four Tests, amassing a total of 25 wickets at an impressive 20 runs per wicket. And he was then allowed to acclimatise himself to English conditions with a stint at Leicestershire, for whom he picked up 25 wickets in seven Championship matches.

The 23-year-old Asif did take his time to work up a head of steam yesterday, but he eventually got into his stride, to account for three England batsmen - Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood - in 11 balls.

The dismissal of the first two meant Alastair Cook had to survive a hat-trick ball, which he did manage, but the potency of Asif was in evidence, which is more than Cooley could say for his former disciples.

Cooley, now the bowling coach with Australia, was asked who had the superior attack, Australia or England. "I think we have," was his response after he had been watching Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee in action. "They have a very good, formidable attack, and on our day when they're all firing, it'll be a good shoot-out."

But the Tasmania-born Cooley, who is credited with improving the England attack and helping Simon Jones to become the world's foremost reverse-swing bowler, also had some ominous news for England. He said that Lee's rhythm and action looked good and that he was aiming to instil the self-same reverse-swing skills that helped Jones.

"You want to try to have all the deliveries under your belt," Cooley said. "Reverse swing is one of them, and if conditions suit we'll definitely try to take advantage of it."