By Waqar Younis
In the third ODI of the Pakistan Sri Lanka series Hassan Ali broke my record to become the fastest Pakistani to 50 ODI wickets. And I could not be any happier.
For one thing I recognize the similarities between him and me. Like me he comes from a small town, and relies on hard work. I had a long discussion with him after the match where he broke that record, and I am an even bigger fan of his now than I was before.
His background is similar to mine. No formal coaching or guidance except his immediate family, but what he does have is natural athletic ability. The other thing he has, which all us small town folks need to have, is unbridled ambition. He wants to improve, wants to keep getting better. And that’s exactly the hunger you need at this level.
The thing that I found familiar with him is how unsophisticated and simple he is too. I say that as a compliment, not an insult. Again his background explains this. I know what a small town Punjabi fast bowler thinks like. The thing is that at this stage of your career you need to be simple, you need to enjoy this rollercoaster. I’d say I was naïve for probably the first five to six years of my career. During this time I just went with the flow, didn’t overthink things and just did what I could do. As we say in Punjabi/Urdu, “usko abhi tak hawa nahi lagi.” And I hope he remains that way, because that phase is the most enjoyable and best of your career.
I survived in that mode for so long because at the time the cricket circle was smaller – there was no social media or TV channels to make mountains out of molehills or screw with your head. It is harder now. I hope he is not distracted by those things and continues to focus on his bowling and cricketing abilities. When he gets older and opposing teams starts understanding his game it will become challenging. When you start planning instead of following your instincts and going with the flow it becomes more difficult. At the start you just want to maximize what you can produce from the chances that the captain gives you. And that phase, in hindsight, is the most enjoyable of your career.
Hassan was still young and hadn’t really come through the ranks when I was the Pakistan team coach, but I have had a few sessions with him since the West Indies tour and he is always looking to learn. When he has asked me about advice I have tried not to overload his mind. Right now all he needs is to back himself and bowl. No one should disturb someone who is taking five-fers for fun! Rhythm and flow is key to a fast bowler and you can tell Hassan has that in spades at the moment. What I have told him is exactly what the great Imran Khan told me when I came into the team. Imran Bhai told me to get fitter and stronger, because to survive in Test cricket you need that. To be a consistent contender in the top flight of international bowlers you need to be able to bowl at pace and build pressure every session and every day of the Test match – for that your fitness is paramount. Only someone who has gone through it realizes how hard it is and how much it takes out of you. You need to be really strong and fit. I know he’s played quite a lot of First-Class cricket so that should bode well for him at the top level.
Imran Bhai always encouraged me to go out and do my thing in my natural way. He gave me full backing and encouragement and allowed me to experiment on my own. He never told me where to bowl and what to bowl, he just backed me. And I hope the Pakistan team management and senior players handle Hassan in the same way.
There is so much to admire in the way he bowls. He is skiddy and always gets big on the batsman. He can swing the old ball and the new and he always surprises batsmen with his bouncers. He bowls like a fast bowler is supposed to be bowl – he is in your face, and is looking to get the batsman out no matter what the situation of the game. You can feel his passion and love for the game through his bowling and his “generator style” celebration! His strong self-belief is something that shines through and stands him in good stead to perform consistently for the Greens.
Right now Pakistan should aim to allow these guys, pure match winners that they are, to fully express themselves. When your team has flair you should never try to suppress it. And the Pakistan team right now, with this group of youngsters coming in has a lot of flair. Each of Rumman, Fakhar and Shadab are exactly the sort of cricketers that Pakistan needs and has needed, and I hope they all are able to have long, fruitful careers.