Pakistan pacer Mohammad Hasnain has never had it easy.
Back in 2019, still a teenager, it was his ability to bowl 150 kph that fast-tracked him into the Pakistan 50-overs World Cup squad. Things didn’t go as Pakistan would have liked – the boy who they called the next Shoaib Akhtar was soon called for chucking.
Earlier this year, he bounced back after ICC recommended action correction work and was an instant hit on the English county circuit. So when Pakistan’s Asia Cup squad was announced, the pacer was included in the squad. And when new ball bowler Shahnawaz Dahani got injured, Hasnain was included in the playing. With his inclusion, Pakistan had two young 150 kph pacer – Naseem Shah being the other- in their bowling line-up. They were up against India’s seasoned batter Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli.
The Hasnain fairytale has a constant theme – He never had it easy.
It started many Ramzans back when Hasnain’s father, Mohammad Hussain, saw what he calls a “miracle”. Like most streets across Pakistan, the one facing his ‘cattle feed’ shop in Hirabad, Hyderabad, too was gloriously lit for the post-iftaar tape-ball cricket tournament.
Once a club cricketer himself, Hassain Sr, now in his late 50s, saw his youngest son join the bunch of excited street cricketers. He had never seen his son play. The father’s struggle to raise a family of six had made him turn his back squarely on the game.
The one-time club cricketer’s interest in the street match grew with each ball his son bowled. The elfish opening bowler would start his spell with a ‘three-wicket’ maiden. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“The batsman couldn’t sight the ball. Three balls missed the stumps. Baki teen bowled maare (The rest were clean-bowled). He was very small but his run-up had rhythm, his action was clean. I was in a state of shock,” the raconteur par excellence had told The Indian Express from his home in Sindh, Pakistan in 2019.
Not missing any detail, father Hussain recalls how he stepped out of his shop and walked over to his son. “I asked him, ‘Beta, did anybody teach you how to bowl?’ There are many old cricketers in Hirabad, I thought, someone would have given him tips. He answered innocently, ‘No Abbu, this is how I have always bowled’.”
His son’s answer took Hussain back to his playing days and that sagely maxim he had often heard on Pakistan’s always-vibrant club scene. “They say, fast bowlers can’t be made, they are born. You can change a bit of run-up, a bit of action, that’s all. Speed kudrati hoti hai (Speed is natural).” Hussain knew his son was ‘special’. As a father, and a one-time cricketer in Pakistan, it was his duty to nurture him. From that day, cricket made a comeback into his life. Hussain was hooked again.
It’s this ‘speed gift’ that has fast-tracked Hasnain to the top echelons of cricket. He was a club cricketer at 12, a Pakistan Under-19 player at 17, a Pakistan Super League pacer at 18 and a World Cupper at 19. The big break into the squad of 15 for England was on the back of the much-publicised 151 kph thunderbolt he bowled for Quetta Gladiators in the PSL in March 2019.
Hussain never wanted his cricket-crazy son to join his shop.
“We’ve this kuttar wali machine,” he says. “Woh makai aur baajre ka jo ghaas hota hai, this machine cuts it, so that it can be fed to cows, buffaloes and goats. Hasnain was the youngest, we didn’t force him to be at the shop. It’s only during Bakra Id, days before the kurbani, when there’s a rush to buy cattle feed, that he used to come over and help.”
For the rest of the time, Hasnain, about eight years old then, would sit in front of the television and marvel at the pacers in Pakistan colours.
One evening at home, the father asked his son: “Why is it that whenever I come home you are watching cricket?” Hussain recalls the rest of the conversation. “He pointed to the pacers on the screen. Don’t remember if it was Waqar, Sami or Shoaib Akhtar. He said I want to bowl like them.”
The one-time wicketkeeper, who switched to pace bowling after an injury, told his son that the path he was dreaming to take wasn’t easy. “I told him, Allah ne ek hi Waqar banaya hai, ek hi Wasim banaya hai, ek hi Akhtar banaya hai. You can’t be them. Pace bowling is hard work. Woh upar waale ki den hoti hai.”
After that talk, Hussain thought he had reasonably de-romanticised pace bowling for his son. He couldn’t be more wrong. Hasnain continued to stare at his heroes on the screen and kept pestering his father to take him to the cricket club near their home. Hussain kept delaying the club visit, he had other worries in life.
That was until he saw his son bowl. On that Ramzan evening of 2012, under the glow of halogen bulbs, Hussain saw the light. The next morning, the father took the son to his old club. Hussain’s one-time team-mates were coaches now. They asked the 12-year-old to bowl. Within minutes, the seasoned pros gathered around Hussain with quizzical looks on their faces. “They asked me, ‘Where has your son been training before this?’ I said, ‘Nowhere’.
They couldn’t believe what they were seeing. In front of them was a natural pacer with raw pace,” says the proud father.
From that day, the two, father and son, were inseparable. The elder sons would now man the kuttar wali machine as the father got busy with the pace prodigy. Hussain gets emotional when he talks about the sacrifices the family made to groom Hasnain. “My two elder sons and my daughter, they knew the family’s youngest needed to be the strongest too. Apne bhag ka dudh ise pila dete the.”
Hasnain certainly needed the extra milk. Hussain’s training schedule was unforgiving. “We would start the day with a 8-km run at Qasim Park. Later in the afternoon, we would be at the stadium at around 2 pm. I would carry three of his extra T-shirts with me,” he says.
Hussain has a way with words and an eye for detail. He paints a graphic picture of Hasnain’s peak summer afternoon training session at Hyderabad’s Niaz Stadium. “The temperature would be around 46 to 47 degrees. Dopahar ke do baje, chamakti dhoop ke neeche, woh 5 round lagata tha. This would be followed by sprints. When he would take off his shirt, I would have to rinse it. The sweat from the shirt would drip like it was soaked in water overnight. He would change before his next routine — 10 overs of target bowling. And finally, he would wear the third shirt before he bowled 10 overs to the various batsmen at the nets. By the time we would be walking out of the ground exhausted, we would hear the azaan for the maghrib namaz,” he says, the strain in his voice conveying the hardship his son had to go through to cross the 150kph barrier.
Till did he know that his son would have to cross several more obstacles in his journey.