Hasan Ali had a superb 2021 but fell off a cliff in 2022, when he featured in only four Test matches. Back to the side in 2023, he hopes to kickstart his – and Pakistan’s – year and re-emerge as the bowling force he once was, writes Shashwat Kumar.
Hasan’s career has never been short of drama or entertainment. At times, he has been looked upon as Pakistan’s pace spearhead; on other occasions, he has been cast by the wayside. The year 2021 was a perfect illustration of the former as he ended up being the third-most prolific wicket-taker in Test cricket. In 2022, he only picked up five wickets in eight innings.
Based on form, there are not many reasons that support Pakistan’s decision to include Hasan for the second Test against New Zealand. But that is the thing with Hasan. Even when he is been at his best, there is always a temptation to persist with him – not because he is superior to other Pakistani fast bowlers, but he has a tendency to alter the course of matches.
In 2021, that came to the fore quite often. Apart from being the third-highest wicket-taker, he also had the best strike rate among bowlers to have picked up 10 wickets. He also picked up five five-wicket hauls – a tally only equalled by Axar Patel. Pakistan, it may be argued, did not face many world-class batting units in 2021: after hosting South Africa, they played Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe away from home. The home series, however, did see Hasan take 12 wickets, which included a 10-wicket haul at Rawalpindi to power Pakistan to victory.
Those numbers dropped drastically in 2022, although it must be remembered that he played on some tracks that were not very responsive to fast bowling. Two of the four Tests were played at Galle, where only 16 out of 74 wickets fell against pace. The other two matches were against Australia on flat wickets. Hasan did not have a great 2022, but with Pakistan struggling to be incisive in their most recent home Tests, there is more than a window of opportunity for him to return and spearhead their bowling attack.
Neither Haris Rauf nor Shaheen Shah Afridi is available, while Naseem Shah has also missed a few games due to injury. Apart from Abrar Ahmed, the Pakistan spinners have not impressed either. At the same time, no Pakistan bowler with 50 wickets since 2017 has a strike rate better than Hasan’s. He also has the 11th-best strike rate in the world during this phase, suggesting that 2021 was not an anomaly but an illustration of how good he can be in the longest format.
That is what Pakistan have to bank on at the moment, partly because they do not exactly have an embarrassment of riches to choose from, but largely because Hasan has a penchant of silencing his critics just when his country needs him to.
At 28, Hasan has seen almost everything a cricketer could witness at the highest level. He used to be the poster boy of Pakistan’s bowling attack after their 2017 ICC Champions Trophy triumph, only to turn the pantomime villain during the 2021 T20 World Cup. He did not play Test cricket for more than two years between January 2019 and 2021, only to form a fearsome bowling partnership with Shaheen.
So, he has been in these situations before. While nothing is a given, especially in Test cricket, there is absolute certainty that Hasan is relishing is return to Test cricket. If he can turn around Pakistan’s dwindling home fortunes, it will only add another layer of intrigue to what has already been a fascinating and topsy-turvy international career.