It’s a screenshot we carried to the interview just to figure out how long Hassan, now 19, has actually been playing cricket for. The original footage is from an inter-school tournament in Karachi, where a local TV reporter is seen having a chat with Hassan after the final.
“Since a very young age, I used to go to various grounds in Karachi with my father,” Hassan tells Wisden India on the sidelines of the ongoing Under-19 World Cup. “That’s where I started developing a liking for cricket. Slowly, I got into Under-12, Under-16, and Under-19 sides while playing for the National Bank Cricket Academy. Once I got into professional cricket, I entered zonal cricket – it’s the system you have to go through if you are playing cricket in Karachi. I did well for Karachi, and then some more good outings at the National Cricket Academy camps led to my name appearing in the list for the Pakistan Under-19 squad. Mashallah, the journey has been quite fulfilling so far.”
But cricket at such a young age comes with the price of compromising on academics, and more often than not, it’s not an easy choice to make.
“It was alright initially, till I switched to professional cricket,” says Hassan, the captain of the team in New Zealand. “It was fine balancing school, studies, academies and coaching. But slowly, once I got deeper into the professional grind, and started going for tours, it became difficult to carry both things forward, since I hardly spent any time at home.
“But I was lucky in a way. My dad is a major sports enthusiast and in this matter, I got a lot of support from home, from him and my brothers too. My mother wanted me to study, but once she saw her son making progress in cricket, she backed me to take this up. Well, to be honest, she supported me right from the start, but she wanted me to try and keep both cricket and studies going.”
Speaking of family, Hassan has distant cousins living in Kanpur in India. He has fond memories of a trip he made to the country many years ago, though he doesn’t clearly remember much apart from the cricket he played with his cousins.
“I was very young, I think about eight or nine years old when I went there,” he recollects. “I only remember just one thing vividly, we played a lot of cricket in my cousin’s garage, which was a lot of fun.”
Not to jinx anything, but here’s a hypothetical situation from the future: Hassan is playing for the Pakistan senior team, and it’s a World Cup match against Virat Kohli’s India. How much of a headache would that be for his relatives across the border, on choosing who to support?
“I think they will definitely want India to win, but I hope they would want me to get some runs or pick up some wickets too!”
Laughter fills the room before we decide to put an end to our guessing games. Back to reality, and we are talking real India v Pakistan, that’s Sarfraz Ahmed v Kohli, which brings us to the topic of the Champions Trophy final last year.
“I was watching it at home just like any other fan,” says Hassan. “We were over the moon with the result, and more so because it was so unexpected. No one was expecting Pakistan to win. Forget about winning, we were not even expecting them to get to the final. But it was remarkable, the way the team fought under Sarfraz bhai’s leadership. After losing to India like that in the first match, it was an exceptional comeback. We, as youngsters, take great pride from what we saw our senior team achieve in that tournament. It taught us to never accept defeat before having actually lost, and taught us to keep giving our best in every situation.”
Hassan has played under the leadership of Sarfraz in the Pakistan Super League, representing Quetta Gladiators. If you search for his videos on YouTube, you are likely to come across one where he traps Misbah-ul-Haq lbw in a match against Islamabad United at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, triggering wild celebrations in the Quetta camp. Leading the pack is Sir Viv Richards, high-fiving and low-fiving everyone across the dugout.
“It was a big honour for me to have played in the PSL,” says Hassan. “Sir Viv, Kevin Pietersen, Moin (Khan) bhaai, Abdur Razzaq – I was lucky to share the same space with such legends. It was an extraordinary feeling. I realised that whenever someone of such big stature comes and pats your back, your confidence automatically shoots sky high. It was a great learning experience for me.”
But doesn’t such early exposure to Twenty20 franchise cricket leagues take away a youngster’s attention from more serious cricket?
“Test cricket and T20 cricket, they both have a place in my heart,” he counters. “Nowadays, T20 cricket has made cricket a very fast game. Exposure, I feel, is the most important thing. When you know your actions are being telecast live, and so many people are watching you play, it becomes a huge platform for youngsters like me to try and showcase our talent. It also gives more people to come in the limelight and put their hands up to eventually make it to the national T20I, ODI, or Test sides.”
A bowling allrounder is how Hassan likes to describe himself, and not surprisingly, his idol is a man who plied in the same trade. “Shahid Afridi was a big name when I was growing up, and he was a star allrounder – a good batsman, a good bowler and a good fielder. So I always wanted to be like him,” says Hassan. “He was a big attraction for the crowd as well, and he certainly influenced me in taking up cricket in a way. I even wanted to grow my hair long, like he did, but well, that idea didn’t go down too well with my parents or the school teachers!
“In the current setup though, Sarfraz bhai is my idol. Like I say in every interview, I have been watching him through his career. There have been many ups and downs, but he has stayed put and has kept on fighting. I wish to do the same no matter what comes my way, and Inshallah, I’ll be successful one day.”
Hassan is pretty much on the right track, even though there’s a long way to go for the youngster. “I don’t think there can be any feeling better than playing cricket for Pakistan,” he says. “It is a feeling that you can not really explain in words. When I’m leading my country, even at the junior level, it is a matter of pride for me and my family. Among so many players, 15 got selected to play, and one was handed the responsibility to lead – there couldn’t have been a more honourable thing for me.”