Bruised by injuries and form issues, the fast bowler has taken the tough route back to the top
Recalling his “difficult journey” back to the Pakistan side, having fought through injuries and form issues, Hasan Ali has underlined the importance of the first-class grind for youngsters in their quest to play top-flight cricket.
Ali missed a major chunk of international cricket between 2019 and 2020 due to multiple injuries ranging from back strain to broken ribs. But he played a key role in Central Punjab’s run to the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final. In all, he played nine games, with the best performance reserved for the final, where he made a century and picked up a five-for.
He was named Player of the Series for his 43 wickets at an average of 20.06. That performance put him back on the national radar and he is back leading Pakistan to victories, most recently in the first Test against Zimbabwe in Harare.
“It’s very simple: if anyone intends to play long for Pakistan and is free, he should play first-class cricket,” Hasan said after the innings and 116-run victory on Saturday. “I made my international debut in 2016 and since then until last year I didn’t get a chance to play the entire first-class season.
“I had one aim and that was to make a comeback so that the world will remember [me].”
Hasan Ali on what kept him going
“If you play the full long season, it will certainly help you a lot in many ways. You get to bowl longer spells with the new and old ball. It lifts your skillsets. The long spells may tire you, but eventually it prepares you for international cricket by enhancing your temperament and making you tough.
“I know everyone has their own thoughts about cricket. Some like to play the shorter formats but for me, I love to play Test cricket. It’s an interesting format and it actually tests your temperament and patience in every possible way. I always wanted to wear a Test cap and it is like a dream that comes true for me that I am representing Pakistan in this format and staying relevant with my performances.”
Since his return after over two years, he’s been in roaring form. He picked a match-winning ten-for against South Africa in Rawalpindi; it helped Pakistan clinch their first Test series win over South Africa since 2003. He picked up 4 for 18 to help Pakistan beat Zimbabwe in the T20I decider last month. In his most recent Test outing in Harare, he finished with a nine-for.
This upswing was far from his mind when he went into oblivion two years ago, after his body nearly ditched him. He fought through injuries in his groin, back and ribs. He lost his PCB central contract, even though the PCB continue to pay him a monthly retainer from the cricketers’ welfare fund, apart from also footing his medical bills. There were talks of surgery in Australia, but Ali eventually settled for several video sessions that helped him through his rehabilitation during the pandemic last year.
“There was a phase when I lost nearly everything,” Ali said looking back on the tough phase. “It was a difficult journey. I was out of cricket for nearly two years, fighting with multiple injuries but came back after getting fitter. It was a frustrating time and I used to cry. But one thing I never forgot was to try and work hard. Because that was the only thing I had in my hands.
“I had one aim and that was to make a comeback so that the world will remember [me]. I had a lot to prove on my fitness and performances for my comeback. I did well and carried on the same performance in international cricket. It was the hard work that paid off.”
Waqar Younis, who took over the charge as bowling coach in 2019, was one of the mentors who stood by him during the tough times. “He has this never-give-up attitude that drives him,” Waqar said of Ali.”He is mentally a strong character, otherwise what he had been through anyone could have collapsed.
“With such injuries, only a strong-minded cricketer can make a comeback. In my years I too had back injuries and people thought I was done. The same thing happened with Hassan. These negative things disheartened [me] at times but when you have the attitude you can always come back. His commitment and attitude made a massive difference.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent