Last Thursday, when Pakistan ripped through a relatively experienced English batting line-up at Lord’s, much of the talk had surrounded comparing Mohammad Abbas with notorious yet crafty Mohammad Asif. No doubt Abbas put on a spectacle by pitching it up and swinging it both ways, Hasan Ali, who shared the same number of wickets (four) with Abbas, accounted for more valuable scalps.
From being an unknown entity in Peshawar Zalmi’s squad in the 2016 edition of Pakistan Super League to leading their pace attack in the next edition and winning player of the tournament award at Champions Trophy later that year, Hasan has gone on from a raw skiddy bowler to arguably the best Pakistan seamer in the limited overs format. He topped the ODI bowling charts merely a year after debuting for green shirts.
Despite boasting all these accolades, he couldn’t really break into the Test side, mainly due to fitness concerns. His two appearances in the whites before Lord’s Test came against the West Indies and Sri Lanka last year. Against the Windies – in Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan’s last international appearance – Hasan removed three batsmen on the last day of the Test before Yasir Shah had the better of Shannon Gabriel on the last ball of the penultimate over of the day.
His next appearance in the whites came almost five months later in the first Test against Sri Lanka in hot and unfavourable Abu Dhabi conditions, where he took just three wickets amid fitness concerns and was dropped in the next game.
Pakistan didn’t play any Test cricket after that series until May this year when they took on latest Test debutants Ireland. Rahat Ali – who had not played any first-class cricket in 17 months due to injury – was preferred over Hasan Ali, solely due to his good showing in Pakistan Super League. And to make matters worse, Hasan picked an injury just days before Lord’s Test, which kept a cloud over the selection of Rahat or Hasan as the third specialist bowler till the game day.
Hasan Ali was the most impactful bowler on day one at Lord's ©AFP
While Abbas took all the laurels for his brilliant swing bowling where he exploited Lord’s slope to the best of his skills, Hasan’s contribution in terms of the value of wickets was more significant. He removed England’s most threatening and in-form batsman Joe Root and Dawid Malan in a span of four deliveries across two overs to put a dent in the English top-order before claiming the wicket of Jos Buttler, who had begun to look threatening later in the day.
Although he went wicket-less in the second innings, for the two relatively uneasy periods for Pakistan – first during the partnership of Root and Malan and later during Buttler and Dom Bess’ seventh-wicket stand – Hasan looked threatening as his length deliveries nipped through and bouncers bamboozled the English batsmen.
While the favourable weather and bowling conditions have definitely helped Hasan, his experience with the white-ball cricket in English conditions has also come valuable. Hasan knows a thing or two about bowling in these conditions, which explains his 13 scalps in five games in 2017 Champions Trophy that earned him the player of the series award.
Before the start of the tour, Pakistan’s team management had outlined that the team will be selected keeping in view the upcoming World Cup in England next year. As bizarre as it may sound, the trend of selecting Test cricketers based on T20 performances has also been going on, with Rahat Ali and Jos Buttler being the latest examples.
Moreover, among the current lot of Pakistani pacers, Hasan best appears to be the best exponent of reverse swing given his regular pace that exceeds 85mph on average.
With overcast conditions expected to prevail in Leeds, the venue for the second and last Test of the series, the wicket is expected to help the pacers. It will come down to which side exploits the conditions better. England might have lost the Lord’s Test by a big margin, but they have a propensity to bounce back. So, as a first change bowler for Pakistan, Hasan has a big task ahead. What helps him is the fact that he possesses all the abilities required to surmount the impending test.