Feature

'He's come a long way' - Hamid Hassan's still got it, and he isn't giving it away

It has been a tough road back, and the 34-year-old marked it in style with figures of 3 for 9 against Namibia

Deivarayan Muthu
02-Nov-2021
Hamid Hassan's double-wicket over rocked Namibia in the middle overs, Afghanistan vs Namibia, T20 World Cup, Group 2, Abu Dhabi, October 31, 2021

Hamid Hassan's marked his T20I comeback with figures of 3 for 9 against Namibia  •  Getty Images

Hamid Hassan is 34 years old. He doesn't have the speed he once had. He doesn't have that long run-up either. Or quite the same hulking figure. And he probably doesn't have the cartwheel celebration that once thrilled fans.
However, he still rocks the headband like his hero Sylvester Stallone did in Rocky. He still has stickers in the Afghanistan colours on either cheek. He still has the swagger. He still has the yorker. He still has the bouncer. He is still playing for Afghanistan, at a T20 World Cup, 11 years after he took 3 for 21 and followed it up with a 21-ball 22 against South Africa in Afghanistan's first-ever T20 World Cup match, in Barbados.
Two of his three victims in that game - Mark Boucher and JP Duminy - are now part of South Africa's back room. Albie Morkel, who was also part of that game, was in the opposition camp, as Namibia's assistant coach, when Afghanistan faced them in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
Hamid himself has dabbled in coaching, mentoring, and even commentary when he was recovering from multiple injuries. After suffering a hamstring injury in the 2019 ODI World Cup game against Pakistan at Headingley, he had decided that it would be his last ODI and no one outside the team knew it until he got a guard of honour. Just like that, Hamid's ODI career ended in a whimper, as did Afghanistan's ODI World Cup campaign, without a single win.
Hamid has only played eight Shpageeza T20 League games across two seasons since then. As for his last T20I before this tournament, it was way back in 2016 during the World Cup in India.
Hamid, however, believed that he could push his creaky body into another World Cup. Afghanistan head coach Lance Klusener, too, believed in Hamid and backed him to make a comeback.
"Yeah, he was our bowling coach while he was still injured. I'm just extremely happy for him. He's come a long way with his injuries, and he's shortened his run-up, but still has excellent control," Klusener told ESPNcricinfo. "I had a long chat with him not so long ago - he's just challenging himself to force himself back."
That comeback would have been less likely on Sunday against Namibia had mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman been fit. The stars aligned and Hamid marked his return with figures of 3 for 9 in four overs as he helped Afghanistan give a rousing farewell to former captain Asghar Afghan.
"I have self-belief and [I'm] also a very hardworking person. [Before] the 2019 World Cup also I was commentating for Afghanistan against Ireland. During the one-hour break, I went to the ground, went running, fitness training and bowling."
Hamid Hassan
Hamid first popped into action when he casually got under a skier at deep square-leg to dismiss Michael van Lingen off Naveen-ul-Haq. He then struck in his second over when he literally knocked over Namibia captain Gerhard Erasmus with an inswinging yorker, providing a throwback to his heyday. While Erasmus fell on the floor, Hamid wheeled away towards square leg, clapping in delight.
Then came the surprise bouncer. JJ Smit was so surprised that he didn't even offer a shot or move his gloves out of the way. The ball tickled Smit's glove on its way to Mohammad Shahzad.
Hamid wasn't done yet. He also cleaned up David Wiese, Namibia's main man, with another inswinging yorker, this one from wide of the crease.
"It was a great comeback for me, especially after five years of long break," Hamid said on the eve of Afghanistan's group-stage fixture against India. "I was fit enough to play cricket [recently] but couldn't make it to the national side. Last tour against Zimbabwe I was part of the team, but couldn't get my Dubai visa on time, so I missed that. From the last couple of years, I was just practicing hard, to get there and get the opportunity. Day before yesterday, I bowled very well and Afghanistan won that game.
"I have self-belief and [I'm] also a very hard-working person. I never give up very quickly. During [before] the 2019 World Cup also I was commentating for Afghanistan against Ireland in Dehradun. During the commentary time, during the one-hour break, I went to the ground, went running, fitness training and bowling. So, I've always managed myself. And [I] just try to keep working hard. Because it was part of cricket, it was a great experience for me as a commentator."
Hamid also delivered a glowing endorsement of Afghanistan's depth in talent, saying they are capable of toppling India - a win on Wednesday could put Afghanistan on the verge of making the semi-finals.
"Afghanistan is a very good side - bowling, batting and fielding is much improved," he said. "We have one of the best spin attacks in the world - [Mohammad] Nabi, Rashid [Khan], Mujeeb. It's a proper, complete squad. If you see our top-order may or may not click but the good sign is that the middle-order is getting runs, especially skipper [Nabi] and Gulbadin [Naib] in the middle.
"The good news is that we haven't gotten all out so far, we have batting till No. 9, most of the batsmen can hit, even Rashid hasn't batted yet. So, we have good opportunities against India, if we score good runs on the board, we can defeat them with bowling and fielding."
Afghanistan have come a long way since they faced India - and South Africa - in the 2010 T20 World Cup, and Hamid has watched the progress from close quarters.
"True, that was our first World Cup for Afghanistan in our cricket history in 2010 in the Caribbean when I was part of the team," he said. "Luckily, I'm again part of this team in the T20 World Cup. That time it was for us very new, very different. Big occasion, playing against one of the best teams in the world. It was such a brilliant experience of my life, to play against South Africa and India in 2010.
"Right now, you see the players, they are very famous playing cricket all around the world. It's one of the best signs for Afghanistan's future that players are involved in different leagues all over the world."
Among the Afghanistan short-format globetrotters is Naveen who, in fact, grew up idolising Hamid. Naveen was the top wicket-taker in the most recent T20 Blast for Leicestershire and has had stints in the CPL, BBL, LPL and T10 league. It won't be too long before he breaks into the IPL, too, as far as Hamid is concerned.
"I have to say Naveen is one of the best options and one of the best finds for Afghanistan," Hamid said. "He has improved a lot in the last couple of years playing T20 cricket [in] every part of the world. Only one IPL is left, hopefully he'll get a chance there as well the way he's performing in this World Cup."
Not many expected Hamid to return to top-flight cricket, but he's here. He simply refuses to give up, and if he can continue to deliver, body permitting, he won't have to.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo