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The Lowdown - Mohammad Hafeez

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The Lowdown on Mohammad Hafeez by Jamie Alter

Jamie Alter

August 23, 2006

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With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In this weekly feature Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or as an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of Mohammad Hafeez, the opener who has found another chance at the top of Pakistan's Test side.



Mohammad Hafeez pulls during his impressive 95 on recall at The Oval © Getty Images
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At various junctures in his Pakistan career, Mohammad Hafeez has found himself doing something of a replacement job. Whether trying to fill a void once exalted by royalty, or carrying the flame of the new kids on the block, or simply to answer an SOS, Hafeez has stuck to his task without fuss. The endings have not always been happy, but there have been endearing moments where he has stood out for sheer exuberance as well an appetite to stonewall. Somewhere in the middle, one feels, is a batsman waiting to exhale.

Most recently, Hafeez celebrated his recall to the Pakistan Test side for the first time in almost three years with a polished 95 in the controversial fourth Test against England at The Oval. Unfortunately, the match will be remembered for other more colourful incidents, but from his performance, both Hafeez and Pakistan can take some heart. Before Hafeez made his assured presence felt at the top of the order, Pakistan's opening combinations in the series - there had been three - were far from comforting. However, the fact that he got a good score and his faltering partner Imran Farhat also registering a classy 91, would have been pleasing for a middle order constantly faced with pressure situations.

Hafeez has been jettisoned in and out of the Pakistan side for some time now. Having represented Sargodha and Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) since 1999, Hafeez earned a call-up to the national side in the aftermath of Pakistan's woeful 2003 World Cup showing. With the old guard hitting the ground hard, the selectors picked a crop of youngsters for a four-team one-day series in Sharjah as well as the NatWest Challenge in England. Hafeez looked to have gelled well with his team-mates; a sound disposition, useful off-spin delivered with Saqlain Mushtaq' action if not his guile, and electric fielding between point and cover opened up a Test opportunity in good time. In a three-Test series at home against Bangladesh, Hafeez was ushered into the opening slot. A dogged fifty in the second innings of the Karachi opener made way for a maiden hundred as Pakistan sealed a nine-wicket win in the second Test at Rawalpindi. However, scores of 5, 7, 20, 1 and 0 in a one-day series against South Africa - Shaun Pollock exposing technical flaws in his batting - at home in October 2003 led to his axing from the Test side, and thereafter the ODI squad.

He returned to the domestic scene and immediately carved out scores of 56, 152, 92 and 79 in his first three games. A string of impressive domestic displays ensued, and Hafeez kept his name in the reckoning with decent scores for Pakistan A. In 2002, Hafeez even played in the Yorkshire League. A rather subdued recall to the Pakistan ODI side in 2005 followed - during which he was reported for a suspect action - and Hafeez looked down for the count. Another Yorkshire League stint followed, with little success.

However, a fine 180 against Australia A in the Top End Series at Darwin, coupled with Pakistan's exacerbated opening problems in England, meant the selectors were forced to call him up to Old Blighty. Hafeez seized the opportunity. Fine shots either side of the pitch, to both fast bowler and spinner, punctuated an innings that helped Pakistan maintain their hold on the match, gain a big lead, and fill a cavity that had ached for three long Tests. A total of 12 different stands had been used since Hafeez's exit from the Test side, but it appears he may be back to where he began so promisingly.

Timeline

February 1999
Makes his first-class debut for Sargodha against Karachi. Opens but manages just 13 and 6.

September 2001
Hits his maiden first-class hundred, 112 from 121 deliveries, for SNGPL against Khan Research Laboratories in Rawalpindi.

April 2003
Makes his one-day international debut against Zimbabwe at Sharjah.

August 2003
Makes his Test debut against Bangladesh at Karachi. Scores 51 from 151 deliveries as Pakistan win by seven wickets.

January 2005
Is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action following the VB Series match with West Indies at Brisbane .

September 2005
Playing for the Faisalabad Wolves, in an invitation to England's International 20:20 competition, Hafeez slams 79 from only 35 balls and takes 3 for 23 to down Somerset at Grace Road.

March 2006
Leads the Wolves to an ABN-AMRO Cup Gold League title , over the Lahore Eagles, with 67 from just 53 deliveries.

May 2006
Reported for misconduct by Waseem Haider, his Faisalabad coach. No action taken, and Hafeez retains his Pakistan A spot.

July 2006
Hits 180, his highest first-class score, for Pakistan A against Australia A at Darwin during the Top End Series in Australia.

August 2006
In his first match back in the Test side, strokes 95 in the forfeited fourth Test against England at The Oval.

Current form
Hafeez, who had been forced to retire hurt early in the first innings at The Oval with a knee tendon problem, resumed with relative fluency. Monty Panesar's left-arm spin was lofted effortlessly over mid off for six as he brought up his second Test fifty, and he looked at ease against the fast bowlers. Though seen primarily as a one-day specialist, Hafeez looked much better than either Salman Butt or Taufeeq Umar.

What he says 1 - on his baptism in international cricket
"I felt in control on my first day. I still remember my first scoring shot - good-length ball from Heath Streak, I went on to the back foot and punched it through the covers for four. That's when I thought `I can do this, it's not too bad.' I got out for 12 after I got a bit careless [to Streak] but I distinctly remember thinking that international cricket might not be as difficult as everyone thinks. Anyway, I put that at the back of my mind and started bowling. Whenever I fail at one discipline, I am always doubly determined to make up for it in another. I got Sean Ervine out leg-before, sweeping at my drifter, and also got Andy Blignaut out bowled. We won, so all in all it was a pretty good first day."

What he says 2- on his comeback innings of 95 at The Oval
"It was a good knock. I was under pressure because three years is a long time, and it's not an easy time to wait. But now, after this innings, I feel much happier. Whenever you come back and get a chance, you have to perform. Unfortunately [our openers] might do well in one or two matches, but then struggle. I'll be doing my level best to deliver this form for the rest of my career."

What they say - Bob Woolmer on the decision to play Hafeez at The Oval
"A right hand-left hand combination is what we would like and Hafeez played extremely well in Australia. He was going to fit into our one-day squad so it made sense to try to get him going."

What you may not know
Fresh from an unbeaten 131 in a domestic match, Hafeez was captaining Sargodha when a friend ran out from the pavilion with a drinks break to say that someone from his house had called. It was only the Pakistan Cricket Board calling to tell him that he had been selected for the one-day squad. He admitted he had an inclination that the call-up was around the corner.

Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

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Jamie AlterClose
Jamie Alter Senior sub-editor While teachers in high school droned on about Fukuyama and communism, young Jamie's mind tended to wander to Old Trafford and the MCG. Subsequently, having spent six years in the States - studying Political Science, then working for an insurance company - and having failed miserably at winning any cricket converts, he moved back to India. No such problem in Bangalore, where he can endlessly pontificate on a chinaman who turned it around with a flipper, and why Ricky Ponting is such a good hooker. These days he divides his time between playing office cricket and constant replenishments at one of the city's many pubs.

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