Two bright young things are ready and waiting to join the international fray, says AOC’s Pakistan correspondent Hassan Cheema.
Pakistan’s tour of Australia in 2009/10 can arguably be considered the worst tour in the country’s history: all nine matches lost, the ‘substitute’ Test captain mutinied against, the most heartbreaking loss for a decade, several ‘life bans’ in the aftermath and the ODI captain being banned for trying to eat the ball. In the midst of all this, the fans needed some respite from their woes. And as so many times before it was provided by the junior team.
Across the Tasman Sea from where Pakistan were being humiliated, the under 19 World Cup was taking place. Pakistan would reach the final where they would eventually pay homage to their senior counterparts by losing to Australia. But it was Pakistan’s three matches before that – the group stage victory over Bangladesh, a quarter-final win over India (which, quite predictably, was what captured the country’s imagination) and then the semi-final over the West Indies – which served to whet the appetite of the fans. Coming out of the tournament there would be three undisputed stars.
First was Babar Azam – a cousin of the Akmal brothers – and the youngest player in the team. He would finish the tournament as the third highest scorer, although almost all of his runs were in the group matches. Since then he has made his first-class and Pakistan A debuts, but having only just turned 17, it is still premature to talk much about him. The other two, though, are already on the periphery of the national side.
As the senior players kept giving their wickets away in Australia, Hammad Azam was on a personal crusade to match Lance Klusener’s 1999 heroics. In each of the matches before the final, Hammad would remain not out as Pakistan chased down their target. Twenty-seven off 22 against Bangladesh was followed by 21 off 13 against India. But any doubts there were about him being only a cameo star were dispelled in the semi-final. He came in with Pakistan at 49 for 4 and scored 92 off 93 to chase down the target single-handedly. After the tournament he would be drafted into the team that would host England for two Twenty20s in the UAE, and be part of the squad for the 2010 ICC T20.
But it would take him another year to make his debut. He would play four of the five matches against West Indies, although he failed to make an impact – the lack of pace and cutting edge in his bowling being most damning. The future, though, remains bright for him. His bowling in the Faysal Bank T20 later in 2011 was in sharp contrast to what had been seen in England: he was the best bowler in the semi-final victory for his Rawalpindi side. And with Abdul Razzaq nearing the end of his career, we could see much more of him in the future.
Raza Hassan looks more ready for the national team – at least the Twenty20 side. He starred in the knockout stages of the under 19 tournament (25-4-88-6) after being used as the most quintessential of Pakistani inventions: the death-overs spinner.
In the two Twenty 20 tournaments in 2011 – playing for different teams in each event – Raza was the leading wicket-taker with 19 wickets at an economy rate of under 5.5. But more than that, it’s his success on the big occasion that seems promising. With Saeed Ajmal on the wrong side of 30, Pakistan could do worse than groom Raza as his successor.
Click here for Hassan’s account of Pakistan’s recent rollercoaster ride