Pakistan off-spinner spoke about his drugs ban as well as his determination to do well for NBP in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, and play in the 2018 edition of the PSL.
By Amir Husain (14th October, 2017)
The quest for a successor to Pakistan’s charismatic spinner Saeed Ajmal seemed to have been a never-ending one. The wizardry with the ball that had helped Pakistan win matches against almost impossible odds is what had set aside Saeed Ajmal as his country’s go-to bowler for a long period of time.
However, his demise as at the international level due to issues with his bowling action brought to the fore the fact that Pakistan did not have a ready-made replacement in the Limited Overs formats which was the need of the hour. Whilst Pakistan were lucky to have found Yasir Shah to take over Ajmal’s role in Tests, the cupboard was relatively bare in the shorter formats and this is where the emergence of a young talent as far back as in 2012 in the shape of Raza Hasan was deemed to be welcome news.
Raza, considered one of the best young talents in the country had made his debut in T20Is in September 2012 but when Ajmal was suspended from bowling in 2014, the young spinner’s skills gained importance as a beleaguered PCB as well as Pakistan fans looked for a ready replacement for the ageing spin wizard. But more bad news was around the corner for Pakistan as the then 22-year-old spinner tested positive for traces of cocaine in a dope test conducted during the Pentangular Cup in Karachi.
Consequently, after a detailed investigation into the matter, Raza Hasan was banned from all forms of cricket for 2 years in May 2015 for the doping offence, effectively putting his nascent career on hold and putting question marks over his cricketing future.
Understandably, the cricketer was devastated by the turn of events but is now thankfully back in action in the current season of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy after the expiry of the ban. In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Raza described his days in wilderness as the toughest days of his life stating that, “It was a long two years out of the game. There was pain, frustration, some anger at myself and desperation to start playing cricket again. Even 2 weeks away from cricket is a long time for a professional cricketer, so two years was very difficult and felt like a very long time.”
A devastating blow such as a 2-year ban at a time when Raza could have been building a permanent place in the Pakistan team could have destroyed many a cricketer but Raza never gave up and continued to persevere as he explained.
“I never lost hope while I was banned and always believed in myself. I trained hard, I kept myself fit and I always had faith that I would make a comeback. I am grateful to National Bank of Pakistan management for allowing me to play for them again and I aim to repay that trust in me with some good and match-winning performances.”
The urge to explain away one’s own weaknesses by putting the onus on others or societal conditions is one that a few would indulge in when put in Raza’s place but the young spinner was in no mood to apportion blame on anyone but himself, “There is nobody to blame, I am to blame for my time away from cricket and I wholeheartedly apologise to my fans and to cricket followers. I let a lot of people down, I let my family down, my team mates, my friends and my coaches and all of the people who have supported me in cricket.“
Raza Hasan’s indomitable spirit was something that caught the eye of the selectors when he first appeared on the international scene in 2012 with his importance to Pakistan becoming very obvious in the World T20 in Sri Lanka during the same year. With the world at his feet due to Ajmal’s problems in 2014, it was therefore a huge shock to all when he was banned in 2015, with many questioning whether he has the ability to make a comeback again.
“My ban came just at a time when I was establishing myself in international cricket and people were talking about me as a bowler with potential and a cricketer who could make a difference for Pakistan. Now, I have to make up for lost time, but I am still young and I believe I can get back to the top of the game once again.”
The painful memories associated with the ban are now history as far as Raza Hasan is concerned as he has busied himself to move on to rebuild his career. In that regard, his participation for NBP in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam Trophy holds special relevance. With 3 rounds of the Departmental version of Pakistan’s premier 4-day tournament now completed, Raza has emerged as the second-highest wicket-taker with an impressive tally of 23 wickets from just 3 matches. This is obviously great news for Pakistan cricket but it is also a matter of personal pride for the spinner from Sialkot as well.
“The start of the domestic season has been fantastic. I'm really pleased with how it has gone and picking up wickets in the first few matches of the Quaid-e-Azam trophy has really boosted my confidence. I am a bit rusty but that is to be expected having not played any cricket for two years but I feel the ball is coming out of my hand nicely and it's just a case of getting lots of overs under my belt. It's great to be back playing first-class cricket again and I'm really looking forward to a successful season with NBP.”
There is no doubting the fact that the advent of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has revolutionized the very basis of Pakistan cricket in providing a unique opportunity to showcase skills of Pakistan’s top cricketers. Similar to many other Pakistan cricketers, a spot in one of the 6 franchises for the upcoming third season of the PSL is foremost in Raza’s mind as means of making himself known to selectors and pleasing his fans, as he explained.
“The Pakistan Super League is definitely a target and Aaqib Javed recently spoke to me about the possibility of playing for Lahore Qalandars, but let's see how it goes. Nothing has been agreed yet and let's see if anything happens regarding this, but yes it would be fantastic to play in the PSL as it's now a very famous and popular tournament around the world. It has helped in developing Pakistani cricketers and the chance to play against and alongside the world's best is one that I would dearly love.”
Raza last played for Pakistan in a T20I against New Zealand in Dubai in December 2014. At that time, his elevation to the level of a worthy successor to Saeed Ajmal was being openly discussed as a certainty. The shocking disclosure of Raza’s drugs ban sent a ripple of disappointment amongst his fans and supporters of Pakistan cricket. However, with the expiry of his ban and his recent success in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam trophy on behalf of NBP, a new sense of optimism is shining through which Raza is determined to use to his and his country’s advantage to eventually find a place in the Pakistan team, “Ultimately my aim is to play for Pakistan again. I would love to wear the Pakistan shirt again. It's every cricketers dream to play for his country and I still have that dream. However, I have to take things one step at a time. I need to do the hard yards once again in domestic cricket, perform in the domestic circuit and ensure I am bowling well and impressing the national selectors. My focus at the moment is to keep adding to the wickets column in domestic cricket and whatever happens after that will be a bonus”, he concluded.