It was the 41st over in India’s innings. Pakistan, despite not getting too many wickets, had managed to kept India’s progress under reasonable check. The scoreboard read 216 for 2. Yuvraj Singh was on strike. Hassan Ali had the ball. With that neat, uncomplicated action of his, he delivered the perfect yorker. It had pace. It was angling away from Yuvraj. It was accurate. It was inches off the ground at the crease – like any good yorker should be. Yuvraj brought his bat down just in time, it caught the inside edge and missed the off stump by an inch. Or maybe less. It raced to the boundary.
On any other day, you could have sympathised with Ali for a near-miss like that. On that day at Edgbaston though, it was a self-inflicted wound. Minutes earlier, he had dropped Yuvraj at long off. It was, by the most lenient of measures, a simple catch. It was the turning point of the match.
So to recap, he dropped the eventual man-of-the-match, went for 70 runs in 10 overs, with just one wicket. Pakistan ended up losing by 124 runs. The coach came out and said their bowling, fielding and batting had gone wrong – that’s the full house, when it comes to things that could go wrong on a cricket field.
Fast forward to June 14, 2017, Hassan Ali has led Pakistan into the final of the Champions Trophy. Oh, cricket.
It has been a stunning turnaround for Sarfaraz Ahmed’s band of brothers. They stunned the World No. 1 South Africa in their second match, somehow scraped past a Sri Lankan side that made Pakistan look like a team of Jonty Rhodes in comparison to their fielding, and then thumped – no exaggeration – the tournament favourites Engalnd in the semi-final. In the vault of cricketing narratives, Pakistan is the team that keeps on giving.
And the one man who personifies this turnaround is Hassan Ali.
Since conceding those 70 runs in 10 overs, taking the solitary wicket against India, Ali’s overall figures read 28-1-102-9. An economy rate of 3.64. An average of 11.33. A wicket every 19 balls. He has won the man-of-the-match awards in two of those three matches. And he is now the leading wicket-taker in this Champions Trophy, a position he’s likely to hold after the final, irrespective of who Pakistan play. Hassan Ali, without a doubt, has been the star bowler of this tournament. He wasn’t even the best bowler in the Pakistan team before this tournament began.
Against England in Cardiff, Ali was Pakistan’s trump card. Sarfaraz went to him when Pakistan needed a breakthrough and he obliged. His first wicket might not have been the biggest name in cricket, but Ali’s dismissal of Johnny Bairstow opened the floodgates for England. He hurried the batsman into a pull shot with that skiddy action of his and got the reward. A steady 46-run partnership was broken.
Ali’s second was, in his own words, his favourite dismissal of the day. He saw captain Eoin Morgan step down, bowled it wide, the batsman went chasing instinctively and a feather-edge was accepted gleefully by Sarfaraz. And then came the wicket of Ben Stokes at the death. Stokes had played 63 balls for his 34 without hitting a single boundary, but a batsman like him can up the ante in the space of few balls. Not with Ali around, though. A beautifully disguised slower-ball that almost landed as a yorker proved too good for Stokes, who could only lob it to cover.
A very Pakistani fast bowler
Ali’s rise has a strong foundation in the way he has bowled his heart out over the last three matches. He possesses one of the smoothest actions you’ll see for a fast bowler. He has that very Pakistani ability to reverse the old white ball. He’s got the variations too – a slower off-cutter, a good bouncer and a lethal yorker.
And boy, does he know how to celebrate. As awe-inspiring as his performances with the ball have been, you find yourself breaking into a smile when you see him pull off that combination of a Brett Lee-Shahid Afridi celebration – a pump of the fist pointed to the ground followed by the out-stretched arms pointing to the sky.
There have been other players who have stood up for Pakistan in their three-match winning run too. Fakhar Zaman has been a revealation at the top of the order with his devil-may-care attitude. Azhar Ali played the senior statesman role to perfection against England. Sarfaraz Ahmed, despite having more lives than a cat, led with the bat against Sri Lanka and captained brilliantly against England. Shadab Khan, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Amir have all chipped in.
But none of those players mirror Pakistan’s swing in fortunes as Hassan Ali does. The man responsible for the one moment that cost Pakistan the most against India has gone on to produce several more moments of brilliance in what is turning out to be the most Pakistan-esque scripts in Pakistan’s cricket history.