“This kid has God gifted talent, he is born to bat” is a frequently echoed sentiment for some. And yes, some of them are just special from day one. You see them and you know they have an ability superior to their peers and are more endowed than others.
Like most young Pakistanis, I also played a lot of cricket. In the back yard, the front driveway, the street , in class, in narrow school corridors, and on nasty cement pitches with rocks in the outfield and garbage dumped in the corner.
My cricket fanatic father had four sons, all equally obsessed with the sport. Add uncles, cousins and nephews, and it was a brood full of cricket experts.
Almost all of us played club cricket but my brother Shahpur Agha was the biggest talent in the family; he was special. He always scored more runs than the other kids on the block and got more wickets too.
Ahmed Mustafa ran the CCC (Cricket Coaching Center) off Garden Road, a popular cricket academy located in the densely populated heart of Karachi. In the early nineties, Faisal Iqbal and Owais Shah were being polished there, along with Shahpur and many other skilled youth of the city.
It was a fine bunch of extremely capable boys, clocking countless hours at the CCC's nets. But there was something extraordinary about this one bloke, Hasan Raza. He stood out from the crowd; at the age of 12, he was already a class apart.
Hasan was a lanky lad with barely any muscle on his arms, but he found the fence almost at will. Hasan was to the other kids at the CCC what Shahpur was at home. He was clearly better than everyone else. It was evident that Hasan was destined for greatness, he had a gift from God, and he was born to bat.
Hasan made his Test debut at a world record age of 14 (the PCB later withdrew the claim, as his actual age was uncertain) in 1996. Realising that Hasan was too young for the biggest stage, he was not given another go for the next two years.
Hasan was prolific in domestic cricket and broke through the Test team again in 1998, only to play a solitary innings of three runs, spending 40 minutes at the crease. Pakistan batted once as the match was abandoned due to heavy fog. And Hasan’s career went behind a cloud for another four years. He only played a game and a half in his first six years in international cricket.
In 2002, against the likes of Glenn Mcgrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Shane Warne, Pakistan was bundled for a total of 59 and 53 in Sharjah. With the heavy weight of first class runs and form behind Hasan, he made yet another comeback in the third test of a sealed series.
He remained not out at 54 in the first innings and was the ninth wicket dismissal in the second innings, scoring 68, as Pakistan crumbled to a second consecutive innings defeat. Hasan got half-centuries in each innings while no other Pakistani batsmen crossed 50 in the game. Two more Tests that year (that included three innings), and Hasan was dropped for another three years.
Hasan was blessed with abundant natural talent, but without proper nurturing, it didn’t add up to a lot. He was perhaps pushed into the fray before it was his time. Like many other young debutantes in Pakistan, Hasan never got the environment to flourish and meet the demands of international cricket either.
The biggest difference between domestic and international cricket is the level of pressure, and perhaps Hasan’s career was buried under the burden of expectations. The free flowing natural stroke-maker bottled up and could never express his ‘A’ game that came through his impulse and made him a local genius.
In the 608 balls he faced in Test cricket, he scored 235 runs at an agonising strike rate of 38.65.
Hasan played seven Test matches, under four different captains, in a career spanning 10 years.
In December 2004, when Hashim Amla made his debut for South Africa at the age of 21, he was touted as the most talented young Proteas batsman. In his first three years of Test cricket, he averaged 22 in 17 innings with one score over 50. When coach Mickey Arthur took over from Ray Jennings as South Africa’s head coach in 2005, he assured Amla of his place. The rest is history.
Arthur has now suggested that a major reason for Pakistan’s failure was that a lot of its cricketers were often playing for their place in the side, failing to get the opportunity to express themselves. For optimal results, there should be a culture where players are identified and then backed, he believes.
223 Test caps have been given out by Pakistan, a staggering 41 of those cricketers never played a second Test match.
In modern times, with the availability of statistical data and slow motion cameras, batsmen get found out much faster at the international stage than they did in yesteryears. Any technical chink in the armour is exposed and preyed upon.
Thus, cricket nurseries are set up to varnish and shine raw gems coming through the ranks. Psychologists are hired, and everything that can be improved upon is worked on. This creates an essential need for good coaches and academies at all levels of cricket.
Many Pakistani batsmen burst on to the scene with a good instinct for the game. However, far too often our system is not able to groom and build its human resource, and at the international tier their technical or mental frailty is quickly unmasked.
Bowlers on the other hand need relatively lesser tweaking and can remain truer to their powers. Unlike the batsmen, their job inherently gives them greater leeway to err and opportunities to redeem themselves, sometimes on the very next delivery. Subsequently, the bowling tank in Pakistan is consistently well stocked; it is the batting that is a worry.
Infrastructure at junior and domestic cricket in Pakistan has never been up to international standards. More so, in recent times other countries with greater economic muscle and better governing bodies have taken large strides in strengthening their roots, leaving Pakistan even further behind in the game.
Shahpur gave up on his dream of playing for Pakistan very early and moved for higher education abroad while he was still in his teens.
Faisal Iqbal played 26 Test matches and 18 ODIs. He laments that some forces in Pakistan cricket always wanted him to fail.
Owais Shah, who went rather under-noticed like many other kids at the CCC, surprisingly played 94 international matches for England across three formats, a lot more than the combined total of games that the talents of Hasan and Faisal could manage.
Hasan still turns up at List-A and T20 games but has lost that zinc of the little kid at the CCC. He failed miserably at international cricket. And in his case, so did Pakistan cricket.
Hasan was born to bat, but destined to fail.
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