In 2016, the 16-year-old Muhammad Musa had just started playing with the cricket ball in school. But noticing his pace and style, a senior student suggested he appear for trials at the Islamabad Gymkhana. The trials were the first time that Musa was going to bowl in a professional environment.
Being a product of tape-ball cricket, Musa hardly knew anything about controlling line and length. He just knew about two kinds of deliveries — bouncers and yorkers. The young pacer went full throttle. He started bowling short-pitched deliveries making the batsmen run for their life. “I hit a couple of batsmen on their heads and the coaches there snatched the ball from my hand or I would have injured someone. They then asked me to join them to learn the art of bowling,” he recalls.
Fast forward three years, Musa, now 18, is bouncing out some of the best batsmen of the world while bowling for Islamabad United in the Pakistan Super League (PSL). But it was not easy for this son of a tile setter. His father wanted him to help him with his work. He attended school, did labour work with his father and only then was he allowed to go to the Islamabad Gymkhana in the evening. “My family was not at all in favour of me playing cricket,” he says. “They wanted me to study and work to earn some money, it was tough for me.”
The talented pacer did not have the financial resources to buy himself a cricket kit and spikes but his club was generous enough to provide him with all these things for free. He soon played for the U-19 district team. But he was played in just one match in the entire season where he was able to take one wicket. It was somewhat disheartening but he kept the faith. He kept working hard and appeared for the U-19 regional trials where, being the fastest bowler from Islamabad, he impressed and got selected. He did not let his coach down as he emerged as the top performer with the ball in that U-19 regional competition.
The Pakistan Super League has given Pakistan cricket many young talented players. Muhammad Musa is one of its latest finds
His performance earned him a call from the National Cricket Academy for the Pakistan U-19 squad. He was included in the National U-19 squad for the Sri Lanka tour but, despite going there, he could not wear the star on his chest as he was not played in even a single game there.
“I was crying inside, I was so disappointed but then I consoled myself, that hopefully I will get a chance during our next tour,” he says. Still that tour was not a complete loss as it did give him something he was looking for all these days — his parents’ consent to let him play cricket professionally.
The pacer was determined to make his mark and one again he topped the regional U-19 championship bagging 43 wickets and was called for the Asia Cup-bound Pakistan U-19 team. This time he played five matches and was a prominent performer throughout the tour. Later, he also toured Australia and New Zealand with the U-19 team to become an integral part of the squad. Eventually, in 2018, he got a berth in the Pakistan squad for the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand where he ended up taking seven wickets while Pakistan reached the semi-final stage.
“Representing Pakistan was an honour for me,” says Musa. “It is an honour to represent your country at any level, you feel a sense of responsibility and passion, it was an amazing experience.”
Upon his return from the U-19 World Cup, Misbah ul Haq recommended him to Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited for the first class level. Misbah, the most successful Test captain of Pakistan, was at the time touring Islamabad with Islamabad United where Musa bowled to him and he was stunned by his talent. “It was a memorable moment for me, I was bowling to Misbah. There was my idol, Waqar Younis, also guiding me. I had never imagined anything like that,” he says.
The Burewala Express Waqar Younus gave a number of tips to the young bowler, who was a little taken aback by him as he told Musa ‘When I can play cricket for Pakistan, anyone can play.’
Rubbing shoulders with players such as Misbah, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, Musa really enjoyed his first-class season in which he also took 12 wickets in the three matches that he played in Karachi. The seasoned players taught him a lot and he implemented it with perfection. As a result, one of his bowling videos went viral on social media with cricket fans going crazy for the budding pacer. But he did not know about the circulating clip of his bowling against Wapda. “I did not know about the video. I was only informed that it was there on YouTube by one of my friends and I requested him to send me a link. Then seeing it myself I got a little feel of being a star,” he says laughing.
The fast bowler was expecting to be picked by a Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise for its fourth edition. However, he did not know that it would be by his home team — he had played a few practice matches for Lahore Qalandars and was expecting them to go for him. He was playing a Quaid-i-Azam Trophy match in Karachi when he got the news that he had been selected by Islamabad United and his spontaneous reaction was just “Allah ka shukr hai! [Thank God!].”
Musa was very excited since before the PSL for bowling against the top batsmen of the world. He was nervous as well as he had never bowled in front of big crowds. He is hoping that he will be able to calm his nerves while playing amid the noise and chants. Musa does not have any pre-determined plans to tackle players such as A.B. de Villiers. He believes that if he thinks so much about a batsman, it will put him under immense pressure when bowling against him, which can affect his performance. However, he has a list of players he is targeting. “I have a few names at the top of my mind that I will look to dismiss, such as A.B. de Villiers, Fakhar Zaman Bhai, Babar Azam Bhai,” he says. “There will be probably Misbah Bhai too in the death overs. I will bowl him yorkers,” he goes on to say laughing.
Meanwhile, the fourth PSL season of the league has seen his mentor and the captain of his first-class team Misbah ul Haq joining Peshawar Zalmi. Otherwise he would have been playing again under his leadership. “I am working hard, I am looking to be the top performer of the entire tournament and win matches for my team,” says the focused youngster. His debut match against Peshawar Zalmi saw him walking away with three wickets of no less than Kamran Akmal, Dawid Malan and Darren Sammy!
Islamabad United has provided a number of talented players to Pakistan such as Rumman Raees, Shadab Khan, Hussain Talat, Asif Ali and Sahibzada Farhan. Musa is counting himself as the next name in the Pakistan national team from the franchise. “It is a huge motivation for me [that Islamabad United produce players for Pakistan]. I want to wish all the players who will represent Pakistan in the upcoming World Cup in England. However, I am also hoping that the next man from Islamabad United in the team will be me,” he says.
MORE EMERGING TALENT
Ahsan Ali, the opening batsman for Quetta Gladiators is probably the best find in terms of batting talent in the PSL 4. The 25-year-old batsman from Karachi has got the complete range of shots, and a cool head on his shoulders along with the much-needed confidence to play at the highest level. He has been opening the batting for the Gladiators alongside Shane Watson which has somewhat led to his being overshadowed by the veteran Aussie.
Mohammad Hasnain is young and raw but it is what makes the bowler so special. The 18-year-old has got vicious pace as he can clock over 145kph regularly and has good control over his line and length. He has got a repeatable bowling action which is a treat for fans who like his sheer pace. He is indeed a bright prospect for Pakistan.
It will not be an overstatement to say that Haris Rauf is the find of the tournament so far. Lahore Qalandars unearthed this gem during open trials where he cleared different levels and eventually emerged as the fastest bowler of the campaign, bowling around 152kph. Taking wickets seems to come naturally to him. It wouldn’t be a surprise seeing him donning the green jersey in the near future.
Karachi Kings have not been at their best in the tournament so far save for one Umer Khan, who has been inspirational in the PSL 4. The left-arm slow bowler is the son of a man who mends tyre punctures. He seems to be a lad beyond his 19 years and has taken the prized wickets of A.B. de Villiers, Shane Watson and Corey Anderson. Moreover, chief selector Inzamam ul Haq also seems to be impressed with him.
The 19-year-old medium pacer Mohammad Ilyas, who is playing for Multan Sultans, is tailor-made for T20 cricket. He is accurate, clever and courageous and has bowled brilliantly to some of the biggest names of the cricketing world with immense confidence.
The writer tweets @Arslanshkh
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 10th, 2019