Hasan Ali: This is just the beginning
The streets are lined with fans as Hasan Ali steps out of the airport. He sees, in front of him, a brand new Honda, a guard of honour and a sea of endless support. The young, lithe man looks out at the throngs of people, gathered to rally him all the way to his village of Ladhewala Waraich, some 30 minutes away from the airport and knows one thing. This is just the beginning.
Hasan Ali’s story, like many of the those of sportspeople from developing countries, is an inspiring one. His parents called for him to be a lawyer, but cricket called harder. From galli cricket, he went to club cricket and all throughout, his older brother was his mentor, his cheerleader, his rock, his sponsor, his coach. From building a room for Hasan near the nets to building him a pitch to motivating him to focus and to disciplining him when he wasn’t,
Hasan’s older brother, Ata-ur-Rahman made Hasan the player he is. Being the younger brother, Hasan was destined to be a bowler, and trained in the nets diligently, working hard towards overcoming his physical disadvantages. At just 5’7”, Hasan is not the typical fast bowler, compensating for physique with his consistency, variations and intelligence.
Hasan’s drive to succeed, his accuracy and street-smartness makes his story the stuff for the silver screen. His journey through the ranks was scrappy, yet amazing, and his performances in local tournaments, the national T20 league and the national one-day league earned him a national call-up, after years of hard work. By this time, he had also made it through to the Peshawar Zalmi team in the PSL.
He played his first match for Pakistan in an ODI against Ireland last year. And the 23-year-old has not looked back.
Since his ODI debut last year, he has taken 42 wickets at under 23 in just 21 games, taking two five-wicket hauls in his ODI career, against the West Indies and Australia. While Pakistan crashed and burned in England and Australia, Hasan stepped into the fore, earning a Test call-up earlier this year. In his only Test, he took three wickets for 22 runs, using reverse swing expertly, and going at just 1.48 runs per over.
And then there was the Champions Trophy
Somehow, this Pakistani boy from some village somewhere, the afterthought in pre-game analysis turned into a green, wicket-taking monster who ate Faf, Eoin, Kusal and MS for breakfast. He metamorphosed from this skinny kid to a bowling demon with a golden ball and a man-of-the-tournament to prove it and he looked so good while he did it.
In one match he politely told Suranga Lakmal that he’s knocked over one of his bails; in others he flash-banged batsmen so hard with his bomb-celebration that it sent ripples through time and space alike, dragging batting back from reverse-laps and Dil-scoops to the 1990s.
So what makes Hasan Ali so special? He swings it, but not a lot. Nearly not enough for him to end a Champions Trophy, where bowlers were treated like has-been club cricketers, with 13 wickets at under 15. His accuracy is unparalleled. As him to hit a coin on a pitch, and he’ll do it over and over again. Add to that an immaculate line and length, a bit of conventional swing and the fitness to go on all day and you have a good bowler.
What makes him great, however, is his brain. Few cricketers have the natural gift of being able to out-think a batsman regularly. Hasan does it for fun. He knew Morgan would charge him, so he made him nick it, he knew Dhoni wasn’t ready for the short one, and he bounced him out. He outclassed batsmen on tracks that offered him nothing, one explosion at a time.
At the beginning of his spell, he bowls a floaty ball outside the off stump, just to test the swing. He curates a ball perfectly, finding reverse where there is none and his variations. You have to see his variations. This is a man who can bowl a 145kph yorker, a slower bouncer and a cutter in the same breath, effortlessly. He adjusts his stock speed to the pitch, his accuracy not wavering for a second. All this and he’s just 23.
It’s not a matter of what makes him great, but what doesn’t this guy do? Middle overs wicket-taker, check. Test bowler, check, Death bowling, check. Send him to open the batting, he might just ace that too.
That said, Hasan may just fade into darkness in a long list of talented Pakistani bowlers. Talha, Rahat, Irfan and Sohail know what I’m talking about. It is up to the PCB to not let another player slip through the cracks.
Hasan passed the first test, he made it through a year of Pakistani international cricket without giving up, breaking down, fixing games or getting fired and he knows that for him, this is just the beginning.