The remarkable return of Hasan Ali — the peaks he scaled, the crests he waded through and the hard climb back up that could see him go into the pantheon of Pakistan’s greatest fast bowlers.
Tick tock, tick tock.
You could almost feel Hasan Ali’s heartbeat as he stood at the non-striker’s end in what would be the final over of the 2021 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Waqas Maqsood was on strike to Sajid Khan with Central Punjab needing three runs to chase down the 356-run target set by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
At 202-7, Punjab were out of the context until Hasan Ali, team captain and batting at No.8, poured the drive he had built up in two years of oblivion into the innings of his life. A 58-ball hundred in the finals of a contest his team was completely out of is as Hasan Ali as it gets.
Maqsood would fumble and the game would end in a remarkable tie, but Hasan had announced his return in typical fashion. Much like his famed celebration, his career had gone from a bright spark to ground level and here, in a domestic tournament that gained world attention on the final day thanks to him, Hasan had stamped his intentions in style.
“I had one aim and that was to make a comeback so that the world will remember,” Hasan said in an interview on ESPNcricinfo.
Hasan Ali is all emotion, fire, zeal and unrelenting passion. It’s reflected in his stride to the crease, the quick-arm action and release, the explosive celebration and the fiery eyes. Expressive like most Pakistan fast bowlers, Hasan just about steered clear of a select group of Pakistani quicks who stormed the scene and made a quick exit to leave fans lingering for more.
Instead, his latest return to the national fold could put him on the pathway to greatness, the road followed by several Pakistan fast bowlers before him, starting on the streets and rising to rock the world stage. They are adored, feared, accepted and acknowledged as beings born to play cricket.
Hasan never had it easy. After the peaks of his early career, multiple injuries to his ribs, groin and back threatened to the scrapheap. But Hasan had a thing for grabbing big moments and an eye for the narrative long before the Quaid-e-Azam finals.
An exceptional Champions Trophy campaign in 2017, which began with Pakistan in the doldrums and ended on a miraculous day at The Oval against India, saw Hasan win the Player of the Tournament award, and confirm himself as one of the world’s most exciting fast bowlers. From his debut in 2016 till the end of the Champions Trophy, no fast bowler claimed more ODI wickets. It took him 24 matches to get to 50 in the format, the joint-fifth-fastest to the landmark, and the fastest by a Pakistani.
In 2018, things started unravelling as injuries took their toll. It went further downhill the next year as he picked up just seven wickets in 12 ODIs, averaging 89 with the ball. In complete contrast to his performances in England in 2017, Hasan had a horrendous World Cup in 2019, going at over six runs per over in each game and returning with just two wickets.
In short, his career seemed done and dusted. Pakistan started celebrating their next shiny young fast bowlers in Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah and Hasan was pushed from the precipice to the abyss where several Pakistan fast bowlers had built shelter.
Once you reach there, there’s no coming back. Usually. But Hasan’s remarkable return, roared out to the world from the National Stadium in Karachi in the finals of a domestic tournament that hardly ever attracts world attention, separated him from the herd.
Weeks after that final, he was playing a Test match against South Africa and hasn’t looked back since. In four Tests this year, he has four five-wicket hauls and averages 13.88 with the ball. In the solitary ODI he played, he largely flew under the radar, but in the Pakistan Super League, he finished with impressive numbers with the ball and shone with the bat in the all-important semi-final for Islamabad United. As Pakistan return to a country which has played host to Hasan’s highest crest and deepest trough, it’s hard to not believe that another peak is there for the taking, the Hasan of old waiting to announce himself again.
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