Pak vs SA – Hasan Ali might be the Pakistan fast bowler...

Pak vs SA – Hasan Ali might be the Pakistan fast bowler who didn’t go away


When Hasan Ali wakes up these days, this is what the coffee smells like.

Early in 2003, Waqar Younis played his last Test. Wasim Akram had already played his last a year earlier. An era was over, although nobody knew at the time that the pair were playing their final Tests. Maybe it is the absence of proper closure that has meant that, in the nearly 17 years since, Pakistan cricket has barely come to terms with the end of that era, let alone moved on to a new one.

In that time, Pakistan have used 37 specialist fast bowlers. One, that is the most by any country. Two, not in a good way because not a single one of the 37 has played 50 Tests. England have six bowlers with more than 50 Tests in that time, Australia and South Africa five, New Zealand four, West Indies and India three, and Sri Lanka one; only Bangladesh, like Pakistan, have none.

Three, forget 50 Tests. Pakistan have just two fast bowlers who have played more than 30 Tests, joint fewest with Bangladesh. Australia and England have nine bowlers who have played 30 or more, South Africa and West Indies eight, and New Zealand five.

And four, the average lifespan of a Pakistan fast bowler in this time is 11 Tests. That is the lowest among Australia, England, South Africa, India, New Zealand and West Indies – countries with solid modern fast bowling traditions.

This is the job Hasan Ali wakes up to every morning: dim future prospects, zero security, and a million pretenders, who, despite knowing all this, are still desperate to replace him. That’s some strong-smelling coffee.

Not that he needs reminding of any of this as he returns to play his first Test for Pakistan after two hellish years. But just for good measure, there are two reminders right by him: Mohammad Abbas, who debuted in the same series as Ali, has gone from the third-ranked bowler in the world to discard for this South Africa series in two years; Naseem Shah, young and quick, then a little flat and plain within a year, is also out.

The big wheel keeps turning, trampling fast bowlers beneath even as it births others, or re-births yet others. Ali has been through one rotation, an absolute hero early on, before a dip in form, then being discarded without fuss, and nearly lost to injury. Like many he has made it back, but we know now it’s not the making it back that matters. What matters more is lasting beyond 11, 30 and then 50 Tests. What matters more is becoming, after 17 years, The First Fast Bowler Who Didn’t Go Away.


“16th June. 2019.”

The question – about how tough the last two years have been – has not been fully formed, let alone asked, before Ali interrupts with this date. It is, he explains, the day of the last international match he played for Pakistan. Old Trafford, India, Rohit Sharma, World Cup, 9-0-84-1 – this tells as much of the story of that day as needs telling.

It was the end of a miserable period for him, where the early sheen of his white-ball cricket had worn off. Nobody could pinpoint why, other than that some generic combination of overwork and a faltering team seemed as much a reason as any. Also, it was about to get worse.

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