Electric Hasan Ali has his spark back

Nakul Pande

For 81 overs, it looked as though we were going to have to add Rawalpindi to Durban, Headingley, Brisbane and Chattogram on the roll-call of modern great Test victories – but then Hasan Ali happened.

Centurion Aiden Markram and reluctant captain Quinton de Kock poked to second slip in consecutive balls. 241 for three became 241 for five, and 58 balls later, it was 274 all out, and Pakistan had the series.

Hasan finished with five-fors in each innings, his first match 10-for and a player of the match award, and marked them with a Bebeto-esque rock-the-baby celebration in honour of the child he and his wife are expecting.

But it is symbolic of his struggles in 2019 and 2020, beset by loss of form and injury, that even this personal joy was used against him.

"People were saying that I got injured due to my marriage", he told PakPassion last month.

"It hurts when you have given blood, sweat and tears for your country and then some people mock you and throw ridiculous and unsubstantiated allegations at you about a lack of professionalism."

For such an effervescent, irrepressible cricketer to be so downcast is an insight into the unseen pressures of the top level of the game, which made his exploits in Rawalpindi all the more heart-warming.

Team-mate Shadab Khan summed it up beautifully on Twitter post-match: "Electricity is temporary, generator is permanent."

Hasan earned his international spot back with a fine season as captain of Central Punjab in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, scoring a whirlwind hundred in the thrilling tied final and taking 43 wickets at 20 in nine games.

But in his experience, Pakistan's domestic setup does not help adequately prepare fast bowlers for the rigours of international cricket.

"There is a problem in our cricket culture and system wherein we overlook the non-playing side of cricket such as diet, training, looking after your body and ensuring you get enough rest.

"So, as a consequence of not working in a professional environment regarding our fitness and diet and conditioning, we suffer burn-out after a year or two."

Hasan had a few full domestic seasons under his belt before making his Pakistan debut, and even so he was by his own admission worn down by the step up, and expressed concerns about some of his more fast-tracked colleagues.

"If you look at Naseem Shah, he played Under-19, played one first-class match and was then playing international cricket.

"I do worry about some of these young boys who are very talented. What we need to develop is this culture where these youngsters are prepared for international cricket."

Hasan is a proven wicket-taker, he plays with a smile, and two thirds of his international runs are in boundaries. The game is a more fun place with him in it, and it looks as though he is back to his sparkling best.

"I always like to bring energy to every team that I play for and I will never change that.

"I just hope to stay fit and keep on enjoying my cricket."