Hasan Ali: The Rise of a Young Superstar

Who is Hasan Ali? No, seriously, even myself, as a cricket boffin, was asking this question at the beginning of this year. Not too long ago, you would have been forgiven for having not heard of him. He arrived in England not sure of his role in the side, at the very foot of Pakistan’s bowling options.

Of course, Pakistan, being the cricket-mad country that it is, knew of his existence well before anyone else. But, for most, this year’s Champions Trophy has been the first time that his contributions have made a lasting impact on the memory.

He played in four of the five ODI’s in England, back in 2016, and even took 8 wickets in that series. But, with all eyes on the returning ‘disgraced’ Mohammad Amir in that series, and old-stager Umar Gul, his involvement and success barely resonated. This year, however, people have sat up and taken notice. Realistically, how could they not? This lad is brilliant.

The 23 year-old, who made his List-A debut in October 2013, took 3/35 against England on Wednesday. That performance earned him his second Man of the Match of the tournament so far and helped Pakistan progress to the final, was perhaps his most impressive and important bowling effort to date.

England had set a solid base at the beginning of the innings, but Ali’s dismissal of Bairstow brought about a dramatic English capitulation, having been 80/1. Eoin Morgan followed, before he claimed the wicket of Ben Stokes late on in the piece. Three huge names and three massive victims in the context of the game, yes. But it was the way in which he removed them all which is even more impressive.

The general theme of games at Cardiff (which is a topic for discussion another day!) in CT17 so far has been for the bowling sides to go short. If not short, anything that prevents the batsmen from hitting straight through the line. Although it can become predictable at times, still, the majority of dismissals at Sophia Gardens have been hitting towards the longer sideways boundaries. Ali, of course, had done his homework.

In the balls leading up to Bairstow’s dismissal Ali had tested the waters with some fuller deliveries, most notably the one right before. England’s opener had smashed it back to mid-on, for no run, but a long, hard stare from Ali followed as if to say, “That’s it. You’re not getting any more pitched up.” Low and behold, the next delivery was a shorter one, dug into the pitch, and Bairstow hold out in the deep for 43. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes to fruition? Ali definitely did, and his characteristically pumped celebration followed. It’s one to even rival the likes of Imran Tahir!

Yet more tight bowling from Pakistan’s second change bowler did for Eoin Morgan. The England skipper was unable to get away having been under immense pressure from the Pakistani bowlers, which ultimately lead to the fall of his wicket, snicking behind on 33. His father would have been extremely pleased too, saying before the game that, “the wicket of captain Eoin Morgan is necessary and God willing my son will take it.”

Ben Stokes, so often England’s most important performer, struggled massively against the right-armer, and that is testament to how well he bowled, Eventually, it was one of his many clever variations that did for the Durham all-rounder, adjusting well and following Stokes, causing the leading edge that put the final nail in the coffin in England’s innings.

What is even more impressive is his maturity and skill level for someone so young and new on to the international scene. He has a knack of taking wickets when it’s needed, and it’s almost like, regardless of who bowls with the new ball at the start of the innings, it never really gets going until Ali has ball in hand. Especially with Wahab Riaz’s involvement in the tournament being cut short so early on, Ali has stood up and taken the spotlight.

Now, he is the big game player, with the weight of an entire nation, bonkers about cricket, on his shoulders.

In all of the games so far he has struck early. It took just two balls to account for Faf Du Plessis, before handing JP Duminy the working over of his life. THAT ball to Wayne Parnell straight after? Simply sensational – most probably the ball of the tournament. The South African could have had 10 more attempts to face it and he still would have played all around it. Against Sri Lanka Ali humiliated Kusal Mendis in just the same way before closing out the innings with consummate ease.

Although his career is still young, Ali seems to have found a ground he loves performing at in Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens. His 3/35 in the semi-final adds to 4/60 in 2016 against the same opponents, and 3/43 vs Sri Lanka in Pakistan’s final group game of this year’s Champions Trophy. A total of 10 wickets at an average of just 13.80, leaked at only 4.60 RPO, shows his brilliance with the ball in the Welsh capital. A certain Waqar Younis also enjoyed playing at Glamorgan after a stint there and so far, in the three games he’s played there, Hasan Ali has been world-class. It’s a flattering comparison, but the stats don’t lie.

Almost a year on from that 4-fer, Ali is a much more accomplished bowler, though. Now, his ODI record for Pakistan is almost identical to his List-A record for the Sialkot Stallions. That, more than anything, shows how well he has adapted to life in international cricket, to the point where he may well now be one of the world’s best. He arrived with 29 wickets at average of 26, but in his last four he’s taken 10 wicket at 17.20, going at around 3 RPO throughout the middle overs – the crunch overs – in this competition. Those two sets of stats are hardly even comparable, and that is how much the young Pakistani has achieved in such a short space of time.

When Ali was breaking into the team, which began with a rather unspectacular debut performance of 0/21 vs Ireland in August 2016, he did not have a specific role within the team. Some games he would open the bowling, whilst in others he would be first or second change. Even in that fixture against Ireland, Imad Wasim (5/14) and Umar Gul (3/23) took centre stage, and Ali was nowhere to be seen.

It seemed as if he’d properly announced his arrival in a winter series down under, taking 5/52 at the SCG. On a day when his team conceded a whopping 353, his figures were the only positive. Just days later though, Ali was getting tap himself, racking up an unwanted bowling century to his name, taking 2/100 in the fifth and final ODI in a 9 over horror show at the Adelaide Oval. Despite his obvious talent, the inconsistency of his bowling and uncertainty surrounding his role hurt his performances.

This Champions Trophy has confirmed his arrival on the scene though, with three exemplary performances against South Africa, Sri Lanka and England. Ali has grown and grown since Pakistan’s collective shocking performance against India in the competition opener, where he bowled poorly for his 1/70. Pakistan were ranked 8th coming into this competition and you could see why. They played like a pub time, it was that bad.

  • Selection was wrong
  • The bowling was abysmal
  • The fielding was the worst many have seen on such a stage
  • There was no plan. It stunk of a side who were playing at the level their ranking suggested

Now, he sits top of the Champions Trophy bowling standings with 10 wickets, one ahead of Australia’s Josh Hazlewood who won’t get another chance to bowl in the tournament. He could well top the table on Sunday night, regardless of whether Pakistan overcome India or Bangladesh, but it will certainly be even sweeter should his side claim the crown.

With Gul out of the picture it looks as if Ali, along with Mohammad Amir, could be the driving force for Pakistan for years and years to come. That’s a scary thought for teams around the globe given Pakistan’s fairly hilarious and spectacular inconsistency over the years, but this is a wonderful thing for world cricket. By no means should we get carried away and think that we’re about to be faced with Akram and Younis 2.0, but the future is certainly bright and we are blessed to be in the company of such a humble and talented young man.

So often, Pakistan, through times of trouble in their own backyard, have brought smiles to the cricketing public. Cast your minds back to those press-up celebrations at Lords as just one recent example. Whilst the other perennial underperformers, the West Indies, seem to still be a long way off, the game needs Pakistan to thrive for the good of the sport and those days might not be far off. They weren’t meant to be here, it wasn’t in the script, but they are, and somehow they’re working it out on one of the biggest stages of all.

It’s beautiful to watch a Pakistan side play with smiles on their faces, enjoying their cricket. I might not be straightforward, it might not always work, but it’s certainly an explosive journey that the cricketing world will watch closely.

 

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