Hussain Talat is a 22-year-old big-hitting batsman from Shahdara, on the outskirts of Lahore, who has made a particularly good start to his career in one-day cricket. He is playing his second season of the Pakistan Super League, for Islamabad United, and is desperate to become a household name of Pakistan cricket. Here are his thoughts of growing up in a small town - the same one Abdul Razzaq calls home - and his hopes for the future.
Cricket. I picked it up because my father and his brothers run a sports shop, Ravi Cricket Club, in Shahdara in Lahore. But the focus was my elder brother; they wanted him to go big and represent Pakistan at highest level but later they realised that I was also into cricket and had the potential so the focus then shifted to me.
The streets are where I started playing, but I had no real ambition, I was just playing because it was what all kids my age did. Because cricket is very close to our heart. It's part of our curriculum. Abdul Razzaq, the famous allrounder, was from my area and that was a source of pride for me. He later left the town and moved to Lahore and his success was something that tempted me. He used to live some two streets away from us and thinking about that always made me feel good.
Also when I was around 10, international cricket was regularly being played here at home. Things were normal back then. We used to have proper cricketing activates going around. I remember in 2006, I watched the Pakistan-India Test in Karachi at home, covered up in a blanket on a cold morning. I also remember I had a final exam but Kamran Akmal was batting that day and I was desperately praying for him to score a hundred. So growing up in a home like that, with my childhood filled with cricket, it pushed me to play.
New Lion Sports, that's the name of the shop I managed as a 15-year-old. We have two shops and my father handed that one over to me. I left regular studies when I was in 7th standard; joined Muslim Model School because they let us appear for final exams and spend the rest of our time playing cricket. So there was a set routine, getting up early, taking my kit bag, putting it in front of my motorbike, and heading for Minto Park to practice.
Practice finished around 11.30 am and then I would drive back to open my sports shop which was situated in front of the Abdul Razzaq stadium in our town. Later in the day, I would pick up my kitbag again and go to Minto Park for some more practice with Victorious Cricket Club, and after finishing around sunset return to my shop and sit there until 11pm. So that was how I spent my teens. Minto Park, the shop, and Minto park again.
Everyone has a history behind them. I used to sell bangles and firecrackers on Eid in front of my shop and also sold threads for flying kites just to keep my livelihood. I was on my own with a shop in the lower-middle-class part of town. So life hasn't been so good to me, but I did what I had to do to earn money and never let my passion for cricket go down. You see, we have all struggled in life to achieve something and I am thankful that it's paying off well. I am the now the most loved person in my house. My mother had reservations about allowing me to play cricket, but now she is so happy when she sees me walking out into the field.
I grew up playing on cement tracks in Shahdara. Teams there used to score 500-plus in 35 overs and it would be chased down easily. So there was no concept of blocking or getting out. It was just all about power-hitting. The grounds here are not really big either, so scoring 300-400 runs is a very normal thing. Our town was the scariest one for visiting teams. I was bit conservative with my batting approach earlier but playing more frequently on those cement tracks made me open my arms a bit more. So that is how I learnt big hitting.
My first-class average - 27.35 - isn't really something I am proud of but I am evolving and I understand I have to tone myself down in four-day cricket. But at the same time, our four-day cricket in Pakistan is more difficult with a lot of changes in the ball we use, the pitches, even the format of the tournament. So it's not just about ability, but adapting to all those changes. I know I can do it, though, because the basics of the game are the same.
I don't want to be known as a short-form specialist. At this stage of my career, I don't want to streamline myself and play only one-day and T20 cricket. I did struggle in the longer format at the start of my career and I do enjoy shorter format. But my issues are just a perception thing. My seniors have told me that I should view first-class cricket as just another form of the game and start enjoying it. In 2016-17, I made four fifties with a top score of 82. So it was all about state of mind and enjoying any time you go out and play. But right now, I haven't played enough first-class cricket to be judged.
Pakistan Super League is the best thing that's happened to me. It has not only helped me overcome my financial struggle but played a significant part in my development as a batsman. The exposure I've got is exceptional, people suddenly started to know who I was and it gave me a sense of identity. When I go back to domestic cricket, they know I am from Islamabad United. When you perform well, it just sends out positive vibes all around. With just one performance last year in the second edition, I got a call-up to a national camp for 30 players and then went on to play the Asia Cup for the Emerging Players.
The biggest thing, though, is that some four or five years ago, we used to follow players from South Africa, England and Australia and wonder how they can play the way they do, and why we couldn't play like them. We used to wonder what was different between us and them. Now, I realise there is no difference at all. We are not lesser to anyone. It's all about exposure. In fact, I was talking to Samit Patel and JP Duminy about this. Mixing with them in the PSL, I realised all cricketers are the same.
Insecurity and fear. That might be the only difference between a Pakistani player and a foreign player. They are brimming with confidence - more than any of our players - and that comes as a product of the system. They have a steady state of mind which is why they are more consistent. We unfortunately came from a broken system and the only mantra at domestic level is deliberately pushing a player to face hardships. They want us to toil unnecessarily in this cruel system. Whoever comes out well is considered a player. It's totally wrong.
We need to develop a player properly through a system like every other country. We shouldn't have to fight to earn a place - let us develop through a proper system rather than throwing us out in the desert all alone and asking us to crawl up to the top. The PSL gave us an opportunity to develop properly. It's nearly a month long, it allows us to gauge ourselves about where we stand and makes us compete against the best in the world. We have trained coaches, we have professional people around us, and this is really going well.
I am 22 and ready for the national call. All I want to is to play for long enough that I become a prominent name in the history of Pakistan cricket. If you have noticed recently, players come and go after one or two series but my goal is to serve for a long time. There are always complaints about lack of opportunity and lack of chances to make the playing XI but I won't talk like that. I just want to make the best out of any chance I get. I don't want to carry the regret that I didn't perform, so I am always mentally ready because I know I have done good enough work to reach here. So I will make sure I keep on contributing and become a team member who is an automatic pick.
As told to Umar Farooq