Plucked from obscurity by the Lahore Qalandars Player Development Program in 2018, with no club, district or first-class experience, and with only experience of tape-ball cricket to his name, Dilbar Hussain’s career has already seen some amazing highlights. The 27-year-old fast-bowler from Faisalabad was a surprise replacement for Haris Rauf at BBL09 and then bowled effectively in PSL5 to take 7 wickets for Lahore Qalandars.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Dilbar explained how being part of Lahore Qalandars has helped him make the transition from tape-ball to hard-ball cricket, the advice he received from David Hussey in Australia, his experience of playing PSL5 in front of home crowds and his future aspirations to play first-class cricket.
By Amir Husain (17th June, 2020)
PakPassion.net: Tell us about how you developed an interest in cricket?
Dilbar Hussain: Like most Pakistani youngsters, I started playing tape-ball cricket near my home from an early age. None of my relatives had ever played cricket to a high standard so I was the first one in my family who had shown so much interest in the game. I moved on to playing tape-ball cricket at a professional level and attained a pretty good standard, with some excellent performances whilst participating in Ramzan tournaments in Oman in 2015.
PakPassion.net: Who would you consider your role model when it comes to fast-bowling?
Dilbar Hussain: Mohammad Asif was the one bowler who I wanted to emulate when I first started to play cricket. In fact, I used to bowl with the same action as Asif in my early days when I played tape-ball cricket. I would watch him bowl on television and observe his bowling style and all the people who used to watch me play were amazed at how much my action resembled Asif’s. Then over a period of time, as I started to play tape-ball cricket in a professional capacity, I started to change my action to one that was suitable for my style of bowling and made it more unique to myself and that is the one I use today.
PakPassion.net: So, when did you start playing hard-ball cricket?
Dilbar Hussain: My first taste of hard-ball cricket came when I was asked to appear in trials for the Lahore Qalandars Player Development Program (PDP) in 2018. From no hard-ball cricket to the PSL and BBL in 2 years, it's been incredible.
PakPassion.net: What made you go to the Lahore Qalandars trials in the first place?
Dilbar Hussain: Until 2018, I had been hesitant to go to these trials as I felt that like in most things in Pakistan, you needed to have strong backing to be selected as opposed to being picked on merit. But a few of my friends who had made it through in these trials in the past such as Haris Rauf and Mohammad Irfan Jr. advised me that Lahore Qalandars were very sincere in their intentions about these trials and would pick genuinely good players based upon their talent and skills. In fact, it was my family members who were really keen for me to try out for the PDP trials as they really wanted me to succeed and to make a name for myself as my friends had in the past.
PakPassion.net: How did appearing in these trials help you start your journey in the world of cricket?
Dilbar Hussain: My first experience of these trials in Faisalabad proved important in convincing me that I could actually bowl quickly with a hard-ball as I had never bowled in a proper setting with the red-ball before. I bowled close to 142 KpH in those trials and Aaqib Javed then picked me for my bowling, and that kick-started my journey in the world of proper cricket. I was asked to play in an inter-Qalandars tournament where I performed really well and so in 2018, I was selected for the tour of Australia. I did well in the matches for Qalandars in Australia and whilst I had offers from some local clubs there, Aaqib convinced me that the best option since I had not played any hard-ball cricket before, was for me to stay with Qalandars as they could help me develop as a bowler and so I was offered a one-year contract which I gladly accepted.
PakPassion.net: How would you describe your first experience of participating in the PSL, although in a non-playing capacity?
Dilbar Hussain: I wasn’t part of the Lahore Qalandars squad for the 2019 edition of the PSL but for my development as a player, I was brought in to be with the squad for the duration of the tournament. Whilst I didn’t play in any games, this stay in UAE was crucial for me as I got to see first-hand how top-level players conduct themselves and how they train and prepare for games. I also understood the fact that I had to work doubly hard in the future so that I could become part of the Lahore Qalandars squad for the next edition of the tournament and thankfully, that is what happened.
PakPassion.net: What improvements did you see in yourself as a bowler after you started playing hard-ball cricket under Lahore Qalandars?
Dilbar Hussain: When I started to bowl with the hard-ball in 2018, it was normal for me to feel very tired after bowling 3-4 overs. This was a weakness in my game that Lahore Qalandars focussed on by providing me with some expert coaches who advised me how to train and also regarding my diet. The result of that training which lasted almost a year was that when I came into PSL5, I was able to bowl 20-22 balls consistently at speeds of around 145KpH+, with the highest speed of 149 KpH.
PakPassion.net: How did the opportunity to play in the Big Bash League come about?
Dilbar Hussain: I was involved in the preparation camp for PSL5 during January of this year when it was announced that Haris Rauf, who had been playing in the Big Bash League had been picked to play for Pakistan in the T20I series against Bangladesh. Aaqib Javed then asked me if I was interested in playing in the BBL09 as Haris’s replacement. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that if other players from Pakistan including Haris Rauf, can go over there and play so well, so could I and so I agreed to the proposal. This was a great chance for me and a platform for me to possibly further improve my skills and I was in no mood to let it go. From then on, things moved very fast as my visa was granted and I found myself in Australia on the 19th of January, barely 2-3 days after being told about the chance of playing with the Melbourne Stars. I then made my BBL debut against Brisbane Heat on 25th January.
PakPassion.net: Playing amongst some top names at the BBL must have been a great experience?
Dilbar Hussain: Imagine a player who had not played proper hard-ball cricket at the club or district level or been part of the domestic setup being given a chance to play in such a high-profile tournament like BBL. When I made my debut, there was a lot of pressure on me as I was playing my first game on such a massive stage because BBL is considered to be one of the biggest T20 leagues in the world. I was playing in front of a knowledgeable crowd as well and in a game being broadcast live on TV so understandably there were butterflies in my stomach. As it is, Australia is considered one of the toughest places to play cricket as the standards are very high, where players are supremely fit and players are taught to play proper cricket from a very young age. So, to get a chance to play in such an environment was indeed an honour for me and a highlight of my career so far.
PakPassion.net: Were you satisfied with your debut at the BBL?
Dilbar Hussain: Unfortunately, I could not perform very well on my debut, although I am satisfied with the fact that I gave my 100% in that game. Whilst I played just one game in the BBL, I learnt a lot from my stay with the Melbourne Stars including how they practice and maintain their fitness and take care of their diets which was very useful for me.
PakPassion.net: How much encouragement did you get from the team management at the Melbourne Stars?
Dilbar Hussain: It was an amazing experience to play under the captaincy of Glenn Maxwell and the support I got from our coach David Hussey was unbelievable. Even though my performance in my only game wasn’t up to the mark, Hussey was very supportive and told me to not be disappointed by such setbacks. He told me to continue playing in the same way I have been doing in the past and he specifically mentioned the fact that Stuart Broad once got hit for 6 sixes by Yuvraj Singh but still managed to become an excellent bowler even after that, or when Ben Stokes bowled to the West Indies in the final of the 2016 T20 World Cup after being hit for four sixes. So, ups and downs can come at any time in a player’s career and according to Hussey, the main thing for me to do was to focus on fitness and skills and not to think too much about any setbacks.
PakPassion.net: How pleased were you with your performances at the PSL this year?
Dilbar Hussain: Unlike the 2019 season where I was associated with the Qalandars squad for training purposes, I was a key member of the 2020 squad and really enjoyed every minute of my time with the side. I only sat out two games of the 10 that my team played and took 7 wickets. Whilst I would have loved to have played in all games this season, I feel gutted to have sat out the match against Karachi Kings in which Ben Dunk scored 99* and single-handedly took us to a win, and one that really renewed the power of belief in the side which helped us perform even better in this tournament.
PakPassion.net: How exciting was it to play in front of home crowds in Lahore in PSL5?
Dilbar Hussain: Our home games in Lahore were simply incredible in the way we were supported by the crowd. The feeling I got of playing in front of such a huge and enthusiastic crowd was amazing and representing Lahore Qalandars in front of such an audience was an honour and a humbling experience. To be honest, the way the crowd was supporting us made each of us feel very special and really inspired us to put in that extra bit of effort. Of course, performing so well in front of a capacity crowd also had an added advantage of highlighting player profiles which I am sure will come in handy in terms of selection for other leagues and possibly national sides as well.
PakPassion.net: What advice did you get from the senior players in the PSL?
Dilbar Hussain: Senior players in our side such as Mohammad Hafeez, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Sohail Akhtar and Shaheen Shah Afridi were not only very supportive of me but also advised me on a number of things which proved very useful for me. For example, they spoke to me about when to bowl specific types of deliveries such as bouncers and yorkers and also gave me pointers on what sort of fielding positions to use when I was bowling. For many cricketers who had been through a proper cricket education, some of these things would possibly come naturally but for me, this advice was crucial and helped me in my performances during the PSL.
PakPassion.net: Which wicket in the PSL was your most enjoyable?
Dilbar Hussain: For me, participation in the PSL as a player was a unique experience, and to be honest, just being part of such a top-quality team was a huge thing in itself. So, every wicket I took in these games was important for me and getting any batsman out in PSL was a great achievement. But bowling well to a two-time T20 World Cup winner like Darren Sammy was a very proud moment for me but the wicket that I feel was the highlight of the PSL for me was that of Shane Watson. This is because Watson is considered one of the top T20 specialists in the world and to have his wicket under my belt will be a memory that I will cherish forever.
PakPassion.net: For a player who did not play any club, district or first-class cricket, the confidence you brought was amazing.
Dilbar Hussain: Once again, the reason for this is the advice of Aaqib Javed who told me that I will never succeed in my bowling if I think any lesser of myself as compared to the batsman I was bowling to. He told me to not worry about consequences and to think like a fast-bowler who simply wants to blow away and destroy any batsman he faces. But that needs to be done with one’s wits about and with clear planning so that it's a calculated attack and not one where you are under pressure and bowling haphazardly. He told me that any good batsman would have at some point in his career faced problems against another bowler so the trick to succeed was to find out his weak spot by watching his videos and then fine-tuning your strategy against him to get his wicket.
PakPassion.net: How important has been the support of the Lahore Qalandars management for you?
Dilbar Hussain: I have been very fortunate that Atif Rana, Sameen Rana and Aaqib Javed have gone out of their way to encourage and support me ever since I was selected by Lahore Qalandars for which I will always be very grateful. I would especially mention Aaqib Javed for his advice and the attention he has given to my bowling and that has been crucial in whatever success I have had so far in my career. Of course, the prayers of my mother and my family have also been a major factor in taking me this far.
PakPassion.net: You seem to have settled in well with the Lahore Qalandars but what are your future plans?
Dilbar Hussain: It’s been a great experience with the Lahore side, and I am glad that they have always felt that I could add value to their team. I recall that when I was included in the Lahore Qalandars squad in 2019 as a non-player, AB de Villiers and Anton Devcich were consulted by Sameen Rana and Aaqib Javed about my suitability for the side and both agreed that I was a good choice for the future. In fact, many of the players with international experience in the squad were impressed by my ability to bowl quick with a very short run-up and of course, that filled me with a lot of confidence. In terms of my future course of action, I feel that it will be driven by whatever advice I receive from my team management at Lahore Qalandars as Sameen Rana and Aaqib Javed have always looked after my best interests. Aaqib in particular has always told me that a bowler only gets to know what bowling is about and learns his trade when he plays four-day games. So, I feel that it would be very beneficial for me to play first-class cricket if an opportunity comes my way in the future.