Known more for his variations than raw pace, fast-bowler Hassan Ali has become a crucial part of the Pakistan bowling arsenal ever since his international debut in 2016. Whilst his career has seen some extraordinary highs in the shape of being named the Man of the Tournament for scripting Pakistan's victory in the 2017 Champions Trophy, he has also suffered his fair share of career-threatening injuries, but true to his character, has made spectacular comebacks in all formats.
Currently playing for Lancashire in the County Championship, Hassan spoke exclusively to PakPassion.net about what he expects to learn from his Lancashire team-mate James Anderson, his experience of interactions with fast-bowling coaches Vernon Philander and Shaun Tait, his determination to answer his critics, what he admires about Shaheen Shah Afridi and his future aspirations.
By Saj Sadiq (23rd April, 2022)
PakPassion.net: How does it feel to be playing for Lancashire in the County Championship?
Hassan Ali: Playing for Lancashire is a great honour for me, and I would like to thank the team management for providing me this opportunity to play and experience county cricket. This is a team for which the legendary Wasim Akram along with Junaid Khan and Yasir Arafat have all played and for me to follow in their footsteps is indeed a huge achievement.
PakPassion.net: How important is playing county cricket for you?
Hassan Ali: I had always been told that you can improve by playing county cricket so I am very pleased that I have had this chance with Lancashire, and I am sure it will be good for my professional development and future career.
PakPassion.net: Have you had a chance to speak with James Anderson yet and what do you think you can learn from such a legend of the game?
Hassan Ali: I am really looking forward to the opportunity of speaking in detail to such a legend and hopefully apply his advice to improve my bowling in the future. What I really wish to learn from him is about his mindset as a bowler, how he goes about preparing for games and most importantly, technical aspects about seaming the ball both ways and the way in which he bowls the wobble seam delivery as well. His ability to put in the hard yards so consistently after playing cricket for so many years speaks volumes about his mindset, and I will be looking to discover the secret behind that and hopefully he will share some insights with me about these aspects of his game.
PakPassion.net: Vernon Philander feels that you are one of the hardest working cricketers he has ever worked with…
Hassan Ali: Everyone knows Vernon Philander as one of the best South African cricketers to have played for his country and his past performances are proof of that fact. As far as I am concerned, hard work is something which is under my control and that is all I can do but I do know that when you put in the extra effort, good performances follow after that. I feel that comments such as those from Vernon are what makes a player work harder and creates a hunger to succeed.
PakPassion.net: Your thoughts on Pakistan’s 2021 ICC T20 World Cup campaign?
Hassan Ali: I feel we played really well as a team during the T20 World Cup but unfortunately could not get to the final of the tournament. But then this is what is cricket is all about as sometimes you win and at other times you lose. But we all feel proud of our performances during this tournament, and this is also something which everyone, including ex-cricketers and experts, have appreciated as well.
PakPassion.net: Does “that” dropped catch in the semi-final of the ICC T20 World Cup still hurt or have you got over it?
Hassan Ali: That dropped catch in the semi-final against Australia did give me nightmares for a couple of nights. I was in deep shock and felt very low for letting the side down at that point and couldn’t figure out how and why I dropped that catch. Especially given that as an individual and a team we trained very hard on our fielding so it was a tough pill to swallow for me but as a professional I do know that such things can happen again, just like dropped catches have happened in the past as well. Of course, for me it’s more painful because I feel that people have started to hate me and started believing that I am incapable of playing for Pakistan. Obviously, this would have been a different story had I held on to that catch but that is the past and no one can change that. All I know is that as a professional, I have to move on which I have done, but it will be difficult for me to forget that and whether I like it or not, this tag will remain with me forever. But then this is the strange thing about cricket because in our practice sessions during that tournament, I caught close to 500 catches without dropping any! Of course, there is no guarantee that I will take all my catches in the future, but what I can assure everyone is that I will continue to work hard on all aspects of my game.
PakPassion.net: What advice did Pakistan’s current fast-bowling coach, Shaun Tait, give to you during the recently concluded series against Australia?
Hassan Ali: I have had a chance to interact with Shaun during the series against Australia and as you can imagine, that is not enough time to make any meaningful changes. He is a great person to work with and I do have experience of sharing a dressing room with him in the 2016 season of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) where I was an emerging player for Peshawar Zalmi and he played 9 games for our side. Even at that time, we had some conversations about bowling and what I really liked about him was that he was a straight-up guy and also kept things very simple as well when talking about cricket. What he believes in is that when you do your basics right then you will be able to perform better in the field. At this point, he has just been with us during Australia’s tour of Pakistan so let’s hope things go well for him in the future as our fast-bowling coach.
PakPassion.net: How do you respond to those who feel that you need to focus only on red-ball cricket?
Hassan Ali: Personally speaking, I do like Test cricket as I feel that it really is a true test of a cricketer’s abilities. However, having said that what I would like to ask those who question my performances in the shorter formats of the game is simply this, why should I only focus on red-ball cricket? If one looks at my last ODI series before the Australia one, I had a 5fer to my name against England at Lord’s. In the previous year, I had the most T20 wickets for Pakistan and then I was the Player of the Match in the last match of the T20I series against Bangladesh. So how can one, based on my performance in one series against Australia, claim that I am done as a white-ball player and that my career has ended in the shorter formats?
PakPassion.net: Tell us how you have managed to confound your critics by making comebacks after what appear to be serious injuries and other setbacks?
Hassan Ali: Injuries and other setbacks aside, let me remind you that when I was injured before, stuff was said about my personal life, comments were made about my marriage and my wife, and I faced all sorts of criticism on social media and in mainstream media as well. But I did not let such comments deter me from my goals. I always knew that until The Almighty gave me strength, all these were temporary setbacks and that I would regain my good form. I even suffered an embarrassment of not being offered a central contract in 2020, citing the uncertainty around my fitness as a reason. So, I went through a lot and made a comeback which is why it’s funny when people are willing to write me off as a white-ball player based upon one or two below-par performances.
Let me assure those who doubt whether I can be effective in the white-ball formats or am not suitable to play for Pakistan that I will not let that happen – I am a fighter and that is my nature, and I will be back in form very soon for Pakistan. I have never shied away from hard work and never failed even one fitness test for the Pakistan side. I was kept away from international cricket for 20 months due to a slipped disc, but I came back from this setback and did so with the red-ball. This was even more commendable as I have seen that some cricketers have retired from specific formats to reduce chance of injury or to prolong their careers.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel that you have been unfairly targeted for criticism?
Hassan Ali: Look everyone has a right to express their point of view and they can say what they like about me but as I have always said, such things don’t bother me at all. But just because someone says something negative on social media does not mean that my career can end like that. Someone who is a team man, who plays for his nation and can even put his life on the line for his country will not let such criticism stop him for serving his nation. I know that when I dropped that catch in the ICC T20 World Cup, there were many people who came out to support me as well and I will be forever thankful for their support. In fact, almost all sports journalists backed me during that time, and I got messages of support from prominent experts as well. To be honest, I actually feel proud that I have such support and love and that many people in Pakistan appreciate my efforts. I will never let negativity from my critics effect my game as I play for my country and my family. In fact, the criticism is something that makes we want to try even harder and perform better.
PakPassion.net: What have you learnt from playing against a tough opponent like Australia during their tour of Pakistan?
Hassan Ali: Whilst the recent red and white ball series against Australia were tough, we are also glad that they visited Pakistan after an absence of 24 years and showed their skills in front of our home crowds. There were times during that Test series that we dominated the visitors but unfortunately, we lost that series. I had said before the start of Australia’s tour of Pakistan that I would be very pleased if a full-strength squad comes to our country because that is the only way we will be able to judge our strengths and abilities. Thankfully that did happen, and this helped our team develop immensely because we learnt a lot about our own abilities and most importantly, understood what it takes to compete against a top-quality team. Hopefully we will apply whatever learnings we got from playing at home against Australia in our future games and we will see a positive effect in our results.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts regarding the benefits of departmental as opposed to region-based domestic cricket?
Hassan Ali: Before we delve into which system is the best, we must first understand what we need to improve our cricket. Whoever is looking into this matter, whether they are politicians or PCB administrators, they all need to figure out how to make things better for our cricket and how to improve the quality of our talent pool. As far as department cricket is concerned, this system was helping run many households belonging to cricketers in Pakistan. On top of that, whoever was involved in department teams had some aspirations to play for those departments and earn their livelihood and then to find a place in the national side as well. We had a lot of departmental and regional teams before, and I feel that having more teams and therefore more cricket, would be beneficial for Pakistan.
We have a population of over 220 million so having just 6 First-class teams does not fit our requirements, in my view. What we have now is that many players have left the game or supplementing their income with menial jobs. Some of the players have even gone to the USA to play cricket which clearly tells you that there are less opportunities for playing cricket in Pakistan. When we have more competitive cricket in Pakistan then the better it will be for us. As you will recall, someone like Usman Khan Shinwari was playing for a department when he took a 5fer in his T20I debut series for Pakistan against Sri Lanka so there was an advantage of the old structure. I feel that instead of a complete overhaul, some basic changes to the current structure can be made to improve the situation so for example, 6 regional teams can be increased to 10 or more and to ask departments to form their teams again, which will result in many more cricketers getting a chance to play. When that happens, Pakistan cricket will see much more talent emerge which can only benefit our game. I should also mention the fact that with more international sides like Australia visiting us in the future, the enthusiasm for the game will grow even further as youngsters will be inspired by seeing their local stars compete against top talent from around the world.
PakPassion.net: What’s it like bowling alongside Shaheen Shah Afridi?
Hassan Ali: In all the cricket I have played so far, I have yet to see a finer sportsman than Shaheen Shah Afridi. He is an exceptional bowler; he is fit and runs in hard regardless of the match situation and gets wickets for his country. I see a hunger to succeed in his eyes and a passion to perform to his best and to me he is the fittest man in Pakistan who can bowl and field with the same enthusiasm all day long. After a long time in Pakistan cricket, we are witnessing a brilliant talent in the shape of Shaheen Shah Afridi. He doesn’t need any on-field advice as he knows exactly what to do as we can see from his performances. I consider myself to be his best well-wisher and pray that he continues to perform in the same way he is doing now and will be the reason for many of our victories in the future which will hopefully include an ICC event as well.
PakPassion.net: What future targets and areas of improvements are you setting for yourself?
Hassan Ali: I don’t set myself huge targets instead I look to make small gains, but my main aim is to ensure that I perform well in whatever game I play. It does not matter if it’s at the club or academy level, or at the County level for Lancashire or if it’s for my country – each game will always get my best possible attention. Regardless of what targets I set for myself, the main aim is to remain fit as there is a lot of cricket coming up for me and to perform at an optimal level requires me to be at my fittest. The ultimate aim is not only to play for Pakistan but to take wickets for Pakistan in the future in the same way I have done in the past.