Osman Samiuddin
Sportswriter at the National

Hasan Raza survives the sieve of Pakistani selection

Return of the prodigal

Incredulously, given Pakistan's not unjust reputation for wanton squandering of talent, Hasan Raza is still around

Osman Samiuddin

November 12, 2005

Text size: A | A

Hasan Raza will play England in only his sixth Test in nine years and his story is untypical of Pakistan © Getty Images

Incredulously, given Pakistan's not unjust reputation for wanton squandering of talent, Hasan Raza is still around. Nine years after a debut so ludicrously early it could only be in Pakistan, seven years after a failed solitary Test recall against Zimbabwe and three years after twin acts of futile (for his career and the match) defiance against a legendary Australian attack in even more legendary Sharjah heat, he is still there. Somehow, as he prepares to take on England in only his sixth Test in nine years, his story is not typically Pakistani for he is one who didn't slip through the net.

If we take it for granted that he always had the talent, then we should absorb and admire, at least, a dogmatic refusal to become another Pakistan statistic. "I was frustrated at being dropped repeatedly. In Pakistan, once you're out, it becomes very difficult to come back. But it depends entirely on how mentally strong you are. I believe in myself fully. Players in Pakistan often tend to lose hope but you can't give up so easily. I looked at myself, worked on my game and kept motivating myself throughout to get back."

In hindsight, we should have recognized the cussedness immediately and celebrated it more readily. However old he was on his debut - and some reckon he was a couple of years over 14 - here was a boy, wispy moustache uncertainly announcing gradual transition to manhood, playing a game that has taxed the sagest of heads. Just consider that when he made 27 in his first international innings, it was only his third first-class game ever. He wasn't ready and he knows it.

"I didn't really have any experience at all. I was very surprised. My goal was to play at the U-15 World Cup that year first and then eventually for Pakistan. But so early I just couldn't believe it."

Till then, he had been playing the game for barely six years, most of which involved the intrinsically Pakistani version of bat, taped ball and traffic-infested streets - in his case, those of Karachi. The orthodox streak in his batting is also a peculiarly local manifestation: it is tutored, he says, by his cousin who was also a first-class cricketer but it is faux-coaching at best. Mostly, he reluctantly admits, it is self-taught.

Having played for the Government Boys School in Karachi, an ad for Pakistan's U-15 World Cup trials in 1996 prompted him to try his hand at organised cricket. "I tried out for Karachi U-19 teams, got a chance and scored nine hundreds in the city's zonal league." He broke the record, incidentally of Basit Ali, one of the city's greatest `what-could-have-beens'. He got selected for the U-15 World Cup side, scored two fifties and an 84 in the lost final against India. Later that year, having impressed continuously at U-19 level, he was picked for a warm-up game against Zimbabwe where he impressed national chief selector Zaheer Abbas enough to thrust him into the Test side. It really was as whirlwind as that.

Doggedly, he has clung on, imposing himself not only at domestic level but also on a succession of A tours. Although outside the team, he has consistently floated around it. Now, officially at 23, he adds another, potentially more substantial chapter to his tale. Around him and in him there is anticipation, cautiously assured but unmistakably positive. The coach and selectors talk glowingly of his maturity, of his arrival, belatedly, as a Test batsman. Last year, as Pakistan floundered in Australia, Steve Waugh remembering his two fifties in Sharjah, asked why Raza wasn't in the team.

This year, he has been gathering momentum, scoring runs on A tours in front of Bob Woolmer and in situations threatening off and on the field. In a practice match in Peshawar last month, where Umar Gul had reduced a Pakistan XI to 31 for 7, he scored "the best century of my career," to save his side. The next day, while players were on the field, the earthquake that decimated much of north Pakistan struck. His unbeaten 71 against England for Pakistan A - as much a bonus as it was matchwinning - sealed it.

"I played against Flintoff and Harmison before. Their bowling has improved tremendously and it was tough because the match wasn't yet sealed. Flintoff, in particular, was very difficult, particularly his length which was difficult to deal with."

Several factors, Paulo Coelho would happily note, have conspired to bring him here. Last year he was appointed captain of his domestic team Habib Bank, a move designed seemingly to hasten maturity. "I feel my game has come together now. I am more mature as a player and after playing regularly domestically and on A tours - all those different conditions - I have learnt a lot." Off the field, marriage and its side-effects - "it has given me some discipline and routine in life,"- have fairly hurled adulthood onto him. Murmurs of his indiscipline a few years ago were greatly exaggerated: "I was late on to a team bus during the Sharjah Test and that branded me a little."

As a case study, Hasan Raza's experience reveals much about Pakistan's obsession with happening upon - and chancing - the rawest talent. The policy does have a chaotic charm about it: it makes for lovely features, profiles and stories. If it succeeds often enough - as it unfortunately has in Pakistan - it can, like the best drugs, become addictive. When it fails, as it also has often enough, little charm or beauty remains. Instead, rather like the best junkies, they are too often forgotten about. You sense that Raza might, refreshingly, buck that trend.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

RSS Feeds: Osman Samiuddin

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Email Feedback Print
Osman SamiuddinClose
Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.
Related Links
Players/Officials: Basit Ali | Andrew Flintoff | Hasan Raza | Umar Gul
Series/Tournaments: England tour of Pakistan
Teams: England | Pakistan

    The cricket tragic who bowled Bradman

Former Australian PM Bob Hawke loved cricket. And he once left the Don speechless with the force of his political convictions

    'The worst thing about being a keeper is stinky hands'

Chris Read talks about how unprepared he was for Tests, and that slower ball from Chris Cairns

    Everybody deserves a second chance?

Switch Hit: Mark Butcher joins our team to discuss the new England coaches, KP, and a potential England XI

    England's Pietersen folly

Martin Crowe: Not getting rid of Kevin Pietersen after the texting saga in 2012 cost them greatly

Fizz, flight and loop

V Ramnarayan: Erapalli Prasanna was a masterful conjurer and perhaps the shrewdest of India's great spin quartet

News | Features Last 7 days

UAE all set to host lavish welcoming party

The controversy surrounding the IPL has done little to deter fans in UAE from flocking the stadiums, as they gear up to watch the Indian stars in action for the first time since 2006

The watch breaker, and Malinga specials

Plays of the day from the IPL match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians in Abu Dhabi

The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it

'Sri Lankan fans embrace the team, not just icon players'

Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara go over their World T20 win, and feel grateful to have fans whose support remains unwavering in victory and defeat

Crunch time for Sehwag and Gambhir

The former Indian openers haven't been shining lately, but the IPL presents an opportunity for them to show their class

News | Features Last 7 days