There was something very special about Hasan Ali's appearance against England in the summer of 2016. It wasn’t just the freshness and raw energy the then-22-year-old brought to the Pakistan unit which impressed all observers. Instead, it was the calmness in his demeanour and the maturity beyond his age in his approach which allowed him to bowl largely with tact and variety.
Nearly a year on, and a seasoned bowler in his own right with 29 ODI wickets in 16 games, Hasan is a key member of the Pakistan Champions Trophy squad which is now just days away from playing their crucial opening encounter against the much-vaunted India side.
His journey to becoming one of his country’s main bowlers in the shorter formats of the game has been nothing short of meteoric. As the young bowler stated, “The last nine months or so has been like one big dream for me. Going from domestic cricket, to the Pakistan A squad and then onto my international debut in Ireland in August last year, things have moved so fast. It's been like one big whirlwind for me. But I have to keep my feet on the ground and not to get complacent and continue to work hard and maintain my good form”.
For many youngsters of his age, the fact that they have been selected and are part of the national squad, as was his case in the 2016 tour of Ireland and England would have been a shock to the system and an achievement in itself. But what Hasan has shown with his consistency is his ability to not take things for granted and continue to improve and build upon his experience.
“I've had a good year and a good season but it's all about striving for that extra effort, that extra performance and think about how you can improve yourself and not just be in a comfort zone as before you know it, good times can soon become bad times. Making my international debut and then becoming a regular in the Pakistan One-day and Twenty20 teams has been a real boost for me and my confidence.”
Hasan’s rise to fame might appear to many as a foregone conclusion, given his bowling skill, but he is equally thankful to the national selectors for the timely chances given to him, which had a major role in his advancement to the international level.
“My plan was to perform well on the Pakistan A tour of England last year and then use that as a springboard for international selection. I had set myself some goals with dates for international selection in mind and I am delighted to state that those goals were achieved. Fortunately, the A tour of England was a success and got me noticed and I've not looked back since,” he explained.
To be part of a historic series where two of Pakistan’s most respected batsmen, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, said goodbye to international cricket must have been a great experience for Hasan. But to have played a role in the match which saw Pakistan win their first ever Test series in the Caribbean will be something he will remember forever. It is therefore Pakistan’s gain that in an age where most young players are more attracted to the high-octane Twenty20 format, they have a player of Hasan’s talent who is very enthusiastic about the longest format.
“The icing on the cake was my call-up to the Pakistan Test squad recently in the West Indies. I believe if you play in Test cricket you can be regarded as a genuine cricketer because that is the toughest and most testing format of cricket.
"I want to stay fit and play for Pakistan in all three formats. I know it's rare for a bowler to play all three international formats these days, but why not, I want to do it and if selected will continue to do it. Modern-day cricket is very tough especially for bowlers and playing all three formats is a huge ask, but let's see, I'm confident I can do it.”
The recent controversy surrounding Umar Akmal's exclusion from the Champions Trophy squad due to failed fitness tests has caused some embarrassment to the team management. It is thus encouraging to hear that amongst the newer players, the issue of physical fitness is very important and something that Hasan takes very seriously, as is evident in his explanation,“I have worked on my strength and conditioning a lot with the national coaches and I am a lot fitter and stronger than I was when I first came into the Pakistan setup. You have to be fit and strong these days in cricket and there is no hiding that fact.”
The upcoming iconic clash between India and Pakistan is one encounter that millions around the world are looking forward to with enthusiasm. The chances of such games producing a classic nail-biter are high and anticipation for the game seems to be high not only amongst the spectators but also within the players, a notion Hasan agrees with.
“India versus Pakistan, it's a huge match and a huge occasion. It's the sort of match that as a cricketer you want to be part of and dream of playing in. India versus Pakistan matches are known throughout the world as great encounters and matches that produce heroes. India versus Pakistan isn't just exciting for the fans but also, it's exciting for the players to be a part of. The adrenaline will be rushing and the blood pumping but you have to try to maintain your composure, and if I am picked I want to be the player that people remember as the match-winner and hero.”
India’s number three standing in ICC’s ODI rankings is a good reason to consider them as favourites for the upcoming game against Pakistan in Birmingham on 4 June. With top match-winners like Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni in their midst and a captain and batsman of the quality of Virat Kohli at the helm, Pakistan know that they have a task at hand if they are to emerge victorious in that game. For Hasan, the equation is simply about holding one’s nerve in such high-pressure games, “Virat Kohli is a great player and a cricketer that I admire and is admired around the world, but India has many great cricketers. However, at the end of the day it's eleven versus eleven and I feel that whoever handles the pressure the best will come out as the victors”, he concluded.