Tainted fast bowler Mohammad Asif is optimistic about his chances of making a comeback to the Pakistan side and revealed on Friday that he sought inspiration from the life of Nelson Mandela during his time in prison in England.
Asif, who's five-year spot-fixing ban ended on September 1, was cleared by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to resume his career along with Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir, the other players convicted in the 2010 scandal.
“The last five years of my life have been very harsh and very hard for me. The toughest part of it was that I couldn’t enter the grounds that I have played cricket all my life on and go out there and play a sport that I have always loved and have a passion for. My family offered me a lot of support during these tough times particularly when I was serving time in prison in the United Kingdom.” Asif told the Telegraph in an interview.
The 32-year-old fast bowler, who played 23 Tests and 38 ODIs for Pakistan, said he found an ally in Butt during his time in prison but South African leader Mandela was his motivation while he was barred.
“I never thought that one day I would be in a prison cell. I just wanted to get that tough period of my life over with and move forward. Nelson Mandela is someone who also had to go to prison and he got through that difficult time and he was my inspiration when I was in prison.”
The ICC banned the Asif, Amir and Butt for at least five years for spot-fixing after the two pacemen bowled deliberate no-balls during a Test match at Lord's in 2010 in which Pakistan were led by Butt.
And although the ICC has cleared the trio to return to all forms of cricket, the three players will have to undergo a six-month rehabilitation program before they can return to international cricket, the Pakistan Cricket Board announced last month.
This effectively means the disgraced players would be eligible for selection, when Pakistan travel to England next year (July-September) and Asif is already setting his sights on that series.
“My fitness is fine and I weigh exactly what I did five years ago before I was banned. Mentally I am ready for a return to cricket but I have to be realistic and take things one step at a time.”
“Realistically, though, my target for a return to international cricket is the series in England next year and that is a target I have set myself.”
England will play four home Tests against Pakistan next year followed by five ODIs and a Twenty20. The Tests will be played at Lord's, Manchester, Birmingham and The Oval.