The Wisden Interview October 13, 2005

'Cricket just sort of happened through circumstance'

Rana Naved-ul-Hasan talks to Cricinfo

Rana Naved-ul-Hasan could have become a hockey player © AFP
Rana Naved-ul-Hasan has been one of Pakistan's unlikeliest success stories. Over the last year he has established himself firmly as the ODI spearhead yet remains on the fringes of the Test squad. He loves hockey, isn't blindingly quick and he almost gave up on the game altogether. He talks to Cricinfo about a successful county season, the challenge of Test match cricket and the upcoming series against England

You were an accomplished hockey player at junior level. How did you take up cricket?

My father was a sports teacher in Sheikhupura. My brothers and I always played hockey and I represented Pakistan U-16s as Right Out. I continued with hockey at college and club level but I injured my knee soon after and required surgery. The doctors advised me to stop running for a year completely so I stopped hockey. During the end of my recovery period, I started playing some tape ball cricket just to be active but my father said if you want to play cricket, you might as well play with a proper ball and equipment instead of wasting your time with tape ball stuff. I started playing for my school, moved to another school with a stronger sports tradition - the Government College of Sheikhupura - and started playing regularly. I got picked while in ninth grade by Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) to play for their junior team and after that it just started.

Were you even interested in cricket?

I always loved hockey more. Cricket just sort of happened through circumstance. I saw Aqib Javed, also from Sheikhupura, bowl really well and also Waqar Younis was making waves in those days so they acted as inspiration in a sense. When I actually started playing I used to be a batsman and wicketkeeper. Occasionally, in tight situations in local games, I used to tell someone else to put on the gloves and let me bowl a couple of overs. I started liking it, dropped my keeping and went on.

You were spotted at U-19 level by `Billy' Ibadulla but there was some controversy over age at the time.

I toured New Zealand in 1994 with Pakistan's youth team where my performances were average. I batted more than I bowled. Khalid `Billy' Ibadulla was the coach on that tour and said to the Pakistan board when we got back that he had made a mistake with me and hadn't really seen me play properly even though he thought I was a decent player. So he said to the board that they should stick with me and give me more experience. I captained Pakistan U-19 against the West Indies when they came over in 1995 and won a Man-of-the-Series award. A few months later, Pakistan U-19 was to play a return series in the West Indies and I was expected to go, but someone complained to the board that I shouldn't be playing as they accused me of being over-age. The board decided not to pick me on that basis - Mohammad Wasim captained on that tour and it's where Shahid Afridi was picked from to play for the national team in Nairobi. After that I lost heart; I thought I wasn't good enough and I left cricket completely.

How long did you stay away and why did you come back?

I started working and every now and again I would play a match on cement at the request of Naveed Khan, a good friend, who organised the games. He started telling me to take up cricket again; I was getting quite serious about it before I left. I didn't want to leave my job at the time because I wouldn't be able to support myself or my family, but he said he would support me. I went to play in the Lahore division at Grade II level and played for Pakistan Customs for a year where I did well. I took wickets regularly at domestic level for two seasons, played at the Hong Kong Sixes and against Sri Lanka A and finally got selected for Pakistan against New Zealand in 2002. The Karachi match was abandoned but I was retained for the Australia-Pakistan series held in Colombo and Sharjah the same year. I didn't play but was in the reserves for the World Cup. Finally I made my debut in Sharjah right after the World Cup. I was dropped later but my performance in the domestic season after that - I took over 60 wickets including 10 in the Patron's Trophy final - finally convinced the selectors.

Even then it wasn't straightforward. You came back against India at Karachi and were dropped again. Why did you stick it out this time?

I struggled initially in that Karachi match and got smacked. I did well to fight back and pick up three wickets but (laughs) I was dropped again after that! This sort of thing happens in Pakistan and I have realised now that you can't dwell on it too much or brood about it. You just have to get on with it and try and keep fighting in the hope that you will be picked again.

'Nothing works better than putting batsmen under pressure by bowling a tight line and length' © Getty Images

The past year has been quite special for you. How do you feel about it now given all that has gone before?

I am extremely fortunate more than anything else. I didn't think I was capable enough of handling the responsibility for a long time but now every time I step on to the ground, I pray that I can do my best for Pakistan's pride and reputation.

Your performances in ODIs and Tests are very lopsided. You have been very successful in the shortened form yet struggled in Tests. Why do you think it is so?

When I played for Pakistan first, my main experience was of limited-overs games. Then when I was picked, I honestly never thought I would play a Test. Think about it: I had Mohammad Sami, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul and Shabbir Ahmed ahead of me in the pecking order. The thought of playing Tests never really crossed my mind and I categorised myself as an ODI specialist. Even when I made my Test debut against Sri Lanka last year, I had no idea I was going to play until the evening before the match. Although I did well enough, I wasn't mentally prepared for it. Again after that I played ODIs and only got picked for Tests when some last-minute injury happened. In India I wasn't expected to play in the Tests either. My bowling wasn't special but I wasn't too lucky either. Some people also pointed out that the effort I was putting into my ODI performances wasn't replicated in my Test appearances. They said I wasn't being aggressive enough in Tests. It is probably a combination of these factors that has affected my Test appearances.

How did the Sussex deal come about?

Inzamam-ul-Haq told Mushtaq Ahmed about me. He said I was a good bowler and a fighter and would do well for Sussex; so Mushy, who hadn't seen me play, very kindly spoke to Sussex and thanks to these two, I got picked up.

How was your experience on and off the field there?

I have played in Bradford for the last four summers so I had the experience of the country, their conditions, their pitches. County cricket is better organised than in Pakistan, pitches are better and it is very structured although I love playing here as well. But the whole experience and feel was special and it was a real honour playing there.

Have you learnt more about bowling in the longer form of the game from there?

I have actually, quite a few things. Every team has two overseas professionals so the quality of the matches and some personal duels in particular are very high at times. When you are bowling to an overseas professional, basically you can treat it as an international because you are up against the best. The intensity can be the same; so playing against them and getting them out, dealing with pressure, dealing with a different attitude to bowling, these were all part of my learning. My accuracy and control over swing and seam also improved; because some pitches offer bounce as well as movement you can get carried away and it is more important you temper the movement. You have to be spot on with your line and length and also with the amount of movement you generate.

You were in England during the Ashes. As England arrive here in a few weeks' time, what is your view of their team?

What impressed me more than any individual player was this unbelievable unity they have developed. They really played as a team right throughout the five Tests which is something that hasn't always happened with them. They are very difficult to beat at home especially. But I think they might struggle with the weather here and on the pitches. There isn't that bounce or conditions for swing. Also the fact that we play here with Kookaburra balls as opposed to Duke's, which they use in England, might make a difference. Duke's are better for reverse swing and because the seam is lower on the Kookaburra it doesn't reverse that much. I don't think they will find as much reverse swing here as they did in England and because we're used to the conditions and the ball, it might prove to be an advantage for us.

Which players impressed you?

The obvious ones really: Pietersen is amazing, Flintoff was right up there and Trescothick and Vaughan were also good. I have bowled to Flintoff before and also Ian Bell but no one else. Whoever it is, bowling basics don't change. You can develop strategies against all of them but nothing works better than putting them under pressure by bowling a tight line and length. Maybe a little swing wouldn't go amiss either! But generally it's a simple thing in that you have to concentrate on the basics.

How do you rate Pakistan's chances as England are widely-considered slight favourites?

If we play as we did in our best performances of the past year - against India in Bangalore, West Indies at Jamaica and Sri Lanka at Karachi - where the whole team has chipped in, then we have a good chance of doing well against them and any team in the world. But we must maintain that discipline, that unity, that spirit.

A lot of people praise your attitude and spirit, the fact that you give everything on the field. Where does this come from?

My father said one thing to me. Whatever you do in life, whether it is in sports or academics, just give your all. Don't come back from your day and let anyone think that you haven't tried your level best out there. It doesn't matter whether you lose or win ultimately, what will matter is how much effort you put in and if it isn't your maximum then there is no point. You can't get disheartened after the first over where you find no movement or bounce just like you can't say I don't want to go to school if you have a tough teacher. This attitude was drilled into my head from the very beginning: I will do whatever I can do in a match, the rest will be looked after.

Thanks to Sussex TV, we have some exclusive footage of Naved-ul-Hasan - and other players likely to be involved in England's tour to Pakistan - in action this summer. This is free for all Cricinfo's registered users - just click here to view it now.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo