Hailing from Sialkot, a city known for producing sporting goods and sporting stars, Raza Hasan's ascent to domestic stardom has been a steady one.
In First Class matches, the 19 year old left arm orthodox spinner has taken 60 wickets with three 5 wicket hauls at an average of 27.43. His record in List A and Twenty20 matches is equally impressive with 34 and 27 wickets taken at an average of 20.58 and 12.59 respectively.
He has also represented Pakistan Under 19s against Zimbabwe, earning a call up for the Under 19 World Cup in New Zealand in 2010. His performances there led to his selection for Pakistan's 2010 tour of England where he was called up to replace the out of form Danish Kaneria.
Whilst his international career is yet to commence due to the success of Saeed Ajmal and Abdul Rehman, he has continued his remarkable domestic form especially in the Twenty20 format, where he took 4 wickets in the recent final against Karachi Dolphins in the Faysal Bank T20 Super 8s tournament.
He has lifted the domestic T20 title on 3 occasions and an international call up is surely imminent as he continues to improve both with the bat and the ball.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Raza spoke of how his interest in cricket grew, his experiences with the national team, domestic cricket and his international aspirations.
PakPassion.net: Thanks very much for your time today in doing this interview with PakPassion.
Raza Hasan: No problems. Thanks for coming to see me Sajid bhai, it's appreciated.
PakPassion.net: Your one of Pakistan cricket's most popular youngsters – tell us a bit about how you started playing cricket?
Raza Hasan: My father really liked cricket. He used to take me along to watch games. Initially, I wasn’t really interested in cricket. At the age of 11, I was more interested in kite flying or playing snooker but my father insisted on taking me to practice and having me practice at the local college ground.
Imtiaz Ahmed or “Mithoo Bhai”as he was known was the coach there. A lot of other well known players used to come for practice there such as Shahid Yousuf and Mansoor Amjad who played in the same Under 15 side.
I started to develop an interest in the game by watching all these players in action. There was Shoaib Malik and his younger brother who also played in the same ground. Later on, all of the aforementioned went off to play in well known clubs in Sialkot after getting their basic cricket coaching from Mithoo bhai. So, I started my cricket there.
PakPassion.net: Did you start off as a left arm spinner?
Raza Hasan: When I started off, I used to bowl “chinaman” deliveries. One of my father’s friends, who used to play cricket as well, remarked to my father that if I had any interest in cricket, I should bowl left arm orthodox spin. After that, “Mithoo Bhai” got me to play lots of local games – usually 3 or 4 games a week. What I would say to youngsters is that play as many matches as possible as match practice is very important – in my estimation, a month’s practice is equivalent to what you gain from playing one match! In short, more than just practice, look to play actual matches which is very important.
PakPassion.net: Sialkot, over the years, has produced some impressive cricketers. What is the reason behind that? Is the system really good there – what about standards of club and school level cricket?
Raza Hasan: The reason why Sialkot produces such good cricketers is due to a good club system. In Sialkot, you don’t really need to worry about playing equipment as this is a city that produces sports goods so it’s cheaper there as compared to other cities. Also, younger players know that this city is renowned for sports so they are attracted to playing here.
Basically, there is a very good “tape ball” structure there and youngsters are brought up on this type of cricket. They start playing “tape ball” cricket in their streets and this type of cricket is played all over grounds in Sialkot. Sialkot is a sports mad city and children as young as 10 or 12 play this version under intense competition. In addition they have some good net and practice facilities in the city as well.
Since you referred to school level cricket, let me tell you that Sialkot has a few schools for example, Muslim High School, Government Comprehensive High School and Qaumi High School – all of which have produced some good players such as Shoaib Malik, Mansoor Amjad, Shahid Yousuf, Faisal Khan and Adnan Zaheer.
PakPassion.net: So you started with Tape ball cricket, then onto club cricket and then played under 19 level for Sialkot region. How did you get spotted by the Sialkot coaches?
Raza Hasan: There are a few very good quality district level under 19 tournaments that take place in the area. There are Twenty20 and 50 over games in Sialkot – it’s pretty much non-stop cricket there. As soon as one tournament ends, some clubs get together to organize another one! This can be a 35 over or 50 over tournament so the talent is being produced on a continual basis.
In my case, I was playing a Twenty20 club tournament and I had picked up the best bowler award. I asked my club that I wanted to go to the regional under 19 trials. I was selected and played the first under 19 game for Sialkot where I got 6 wickets against Gujranwala. In the next game, I took 5 wickets against Sheikhupura. In all I took 23 wickets in total in my first 5 matches!
Initially I had to sit out a few games. Tahir Mahmood, was the coach for the Sialkot regional under 19 team, gave me a chance to play and I never looked back. I ensured that, when given the chance to play, my performance was of such high quality that I could not be dropped.
PakPassion.net: Any up and coming players in Sialkot that we should look out for?
Raza Hasan: Currently we have Mukhtar Ahmed who is a good opening batsman who is a very good Twenty20 cricketer. He plays without any fear and he has even played under 23 games for Sialkot. Then we also have a left arm spinner, Azhar who has also played under 23 games. In other words, there is a lot of upcoming talent from Sialkot due to a good club structure.
PakPassion.net: Usually in Pakistan, kids will have ambitions to be batsmen or fast bowlers. When is it that you realized that you had the talent to become a left arm spinner?
Raza Hasan: I am not sure about what level of talent existed in me but I always wanted to be a fast bowler. However, my teacher, Imtiaz Ahmed, asked my father to let me remain under his supervision for 3 years and he would turn me into a quality left arm spinner. You see, teachers have that foresight which I, as an eleven year old, didn’t have! The teachers can see things you can’t and in my case, my teacher really helped me out. He would take me to another ground if there was no match in our area and insist that I bowl 6 or 7 overs. On our own grounds, he would collect some money, buy a couple of cricket balls and organize a highly competitive game between us local boys.
On this note, and a special message from me, I would request that Murray College which has a special place in my heart and has produced a lot of good cricketers in Sialkot should be opened up again. If this college is opened again, Pakistan will be guaranteed a few good players every year at a junior level.
PakPassion.net: So after regional cricket, you moved to FC for Sialkot. How long did you play there and when did you move to a departmental team?
Raza Hasan: I played regional cricket under 19 for three years and then was spotted in an academy by Ijaz Ahmed. Ijaz's support was excellent whether it was at Under 19 or during Pakistan "A" tours. A lot of credit goes to Ijaz Ahmed for my development and improvement as a cricketer.
In some instances, my name wasn’t even picked up but Ijaz spoke to the selectors about me. He told them that this boy will perform and I did just that. I was the best bowler amongst some well-known names such as our captain Hafeez and Abdur Rehman. So Ijaz Bhai has always supported me – even in front of the media – and I have also performed well. I have been the best bowler twice in Twenty20 domestic tournaments and generally played well in all domestic matches. I hope the selectors will take notice.
PakPassion.net: Based on your brilliant performances in the Twenty over format, do you consider yourself a Twenty20 specialist or do you feel you are suitable for other formats also at international level?
Raza Hasan: I started my cricket at the age of 11 and I did not play a 4 day game until I was 19! I played my first 3 day game in the under 19 regional tournament. So in fact, I have a lot of experience in the shorter format of the game. In Pakistan you do not play much 3 day or 4 day cricket until you start playing in the Under 19 regional competition.
Whether it’s at school level or club level - I played 25 over, 35 over and 50 over cricket so I seem to have a lot of experience in those formats. However, I have bowled in 4 day games and as they say, once you have bowled in 4 day games, you gain more maturity. For example Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman played first class cricket for 10 years and then came into International cricket. The fact is that once you play even at international level – even if it’s a Twenty20 game - you can handle the pressure then you can also bowl at a Test level.
PakPassion.net: You've lifted the domestic Twenty20 title 3 times, but which is the most memorable victory out of all of them?
Raza Hasan: My bowling in the super over for Rawalpindi was memorable as was the performance in the following year against Rawalpindi Rams for Sialkot, in which I bowled 4 overs for 9 runs and picked up two wickets. That was almost a singlehanded victory after the opposition they had scored 160 in 16 overs and we won by only 8 runs – if I'd even given away 20 runs in those overs, we would have surely lost that game.
PakPassion.net: You initially played for Rawalpindi Rams in the Twenty over format, even though you were born in Sialkot, but then you subsequently moved back. How did that happen?
Raza Hasan: Sabih [Azhar] bhai was the coach during the [Pakistan] tour of Zimbabwe. He knew I was a good bowler and then I went on the "A" tour in Dubai. At the same time, Ijaz [Ahmed] told Sialkot “Raza Hasan is a good kid, he's doing well, watch his highlights on TV, select him for the T20s and he can achieve a lot”. But the Sialkot side was very good and for that reason the Sialkot President said there was no room in the team for me, and that I should wait one or two years.
As a result of this, Ijaz Ahmed asked Sabih Bhai if Rawalpindi wanted to sign me, and at that time Rawalpindi needed a spinner too and Sabih told me I could join them if I wanted. I played for Rawalpindi for 3 years and when I put in some good performances in tournaments I got noticed and Sialkot and Shoaib Malik told me I should return. It's only natural to want to return to your home city and play for them – for this reason I returned to Sialkot.
PakPassion.net: At this time you have the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the Pentangular Trophy, National One-Day Cup, two T20 Tournaments - the Pakistani cricket season is tough on cricketers and spin bowlers have to get though a lot of overs. What are your thoughts on Pakistan's domestic set-up? Is it right, or do you think changes are necessary?
Raza Hasan: The domestic set-up is going very well. There should be opportunities for players to also go to the gym too – we should be booked into hotels with good gyms and swimming pool facilities to allow player recovery. We stay at hotels where it's not easy to find the local gym, same thing if you want to go swimming to aid recovery. The hotels should be such that we are able to recover fully.
Match fees are also an issue. There are players that have to come to England to play league cricket just to survive. If you have decent match fees in Pakistan, around PKR 30,000 – 40,000 [US$ 330 - 440] per match and there are 10 matches in a season, a quality player plays all 10 matches – if he earns PKR 500,000 – 550,000 [US$ 5,500 – 6,050] in a season, then he won't leave Pakistan.
Because we aren't paid that much, players have to come to England to earn some money. The standard of cricket in England is far below that in Pakistan. Our club cricket is far above league cricket in the UK, but players come here for the money and play a season to gain additional income.
95% of the cricketers from Pakistan are from poor to average homes, who need the money. Only 5% arrive here from homes where they could get by if they didn't supplement their income by playing overseas. If the authorities in Pakistan improve their daily match fees, the standard of cricket in the country will improve significantly.
PakPassion.net: You’re playing for Whitmore Cricket Club in the Staffordshire League. It's a very good opportunity, both financially and in terms of gaining experience in English conditions. Will you be playing for the whole season or is it a match by match contract?
Raza Hasan: I have told them I am doing well in Pakistan and I'll play because the contract is good. However, if the Pakistani cricket board calls me I will have to return to Pakistan.
PakPassion.net: You mentioned Saeed Ajmal and Abdul Rehman as being experienced cricketers and also good role models. However you must be hoping that your chance will come once they retire?
Raza Hasan: Their performances are very good – both are my seniors and I have a great deal of respect for them but alongside the seniors, youngsters also need to be able to gain experience of the atmosphere of international cricket. Thrusting a young player straight into the international spotlight isn't good – they need to learn know how to handle the international crowd and other such issues. Young players should be selected for some of the "smaller" tours against, with all due respect, some of the weaker opponents.
PakPassion.net: What kind of advice have you received from Saeed Ajmal and your team mate Abdul Rehman?
Raza Hasan: Saeed Ajmal gives me a lot of confidence. I've met him quite a few times in camps and he has always passed on tips to me, especially on how to bowl to certain batsman. He guides me very well and his hope is to leave a legacy so when he retires there will be one or two spinners to take over from him in the Pakistan side. Both Saeed and Abdul tell me to work hard and improve myself so I can play for Pakistan and they pass on a lot of their own experiences to me.
PakPassion.net: In 2010, you were called up for the England tour. It was a difficult one on and off the pitch, and you didn't get a game. It still must have been a very good experience with the Pakistan team, with Waqar as Coach and a number of senior players around?
Raza Hasan: I enjoyed watching cricket from the sidelines a lot! One does feel it is a gentleman's game when experiencing it in England. It is every player's aim to play international cricket and my name was mentioned for that tour. After that I haven't been putting in the performances and therefore been unable to break into the squad but I'll continue to put in the effort and I hope it'll happen sooner rather than later.
PakPassion.net: There are a lack of Pakistan "A" tours being arranged for the up and coming player. For example there don’t seem to be any tours to the West Indies, Australia or England which could give opportunities for youngsters to experience the game abroad – do you agree?
Raza Hasan: If you look, the Under-19 World Cup is scheduled every two years. If you look at any Under-19 World Cup, you will find 2 or 3 players that end up playing for Pakistan not long after that tournament. This suggests there should be quite a few Under 19 tours. Similarly, with the Pakistan "A" team, you will unearth 2 or 3 top players every year if you arrange regular tours. Pakistani cricket will improve a lot if these tours happen on a more regular basis.
PakPassion.net: You recently played for the PCB XI against England. You didn't take any wickets but you batted well, making a half century on a turning track. It must have been beneficial to play against the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann?
Raza Hasan: It was a very good experience to play against international cricketers, to see how they play and learn how to bowl to international quality players. I had a bit of bad luck and didn't pick up any wickets as I had some catches dropped off my bowling, but I batted with a lot of concentration and enjoyed it a lot. You do enjoy playing international cricket a lot as there is a lot of discipline required, you receive well-prepared wickets which are good for bowling and batting. Whichever form of cricket you play, the more you play the greater experience you gain.
PakPassion.net: Did any England players speak to you about your batting and bowling?
Raza Hasan: Ian Bell spoke to me and appreciated my bowling. I had got him out twice previously when playing for Pakistan "A" against the England Lions in a previous encounter and I get along well with him.
Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan appreciated my batting against the spinners and told me that I played well. The pitch was breaking up and a lot of our batsmen got out to spin – Monty Panesar got 5 wickets and Swann 3 and even in the second innings Monty got 4 or 5 wickets. I enjoyed batting against Swann and Panesar in Dubai and it was definitely good for my development.
PakPassion.net: Did you learn anything from watching Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann bowl, about their varieties etc. Both are accomplished bowlers and it must have been useful to see them in action?
Raza Hasan: I think Monty is better than Swann because he bowls more quickly and gets more grip. Swann relies on flighting the ball, and the game is such nowadays that the batsmen can use their feet and it's hard to be successful. I learnt a lot from watching Monty bowl in Dubai, about maintaining a consistent pace throughout the day, containing the batsman and picking up wickets accordingly.
PakPassion.net: There is a new coaching team for Pakistan with Dav Whatmore and Julian Fountain and also a new selection committee. New players will potentially get a chance, especially with the Twenty20 World Cup coming up. Could be a good chance for you?
Raza Hasan: Whichever player plays well in the Twenty20 format has a good chance and will be hopeful of getting a chance and I too am hopeful for selection in the matches running up to the T20 World Cup and the tournament itself. Once in the side, my aim is to do my best and to keep my spot in the team. I know I will not let anyone down when my international chance arrives.
PakPassion.net: What are your plans for the future, in the short and long-term?
Raza Hasan: Whenever you play cricket in life, whether it be at the age of 10, 15, domestic or international, you should keep on learning. The day you stop learning about cricket is the day you will be unable to perform. Cricket is the type of sport where you cannot learn everything – you can practice 300 balls or 400 balls, bowl for days in the nets and when you get to the match you concede runs! However, the more you learn, the better you play and the greater the improvement.
PakPassion.net: Many thanks and best wishes for the future
Raza Hasan: Thanks very much