Amir Husain (PakPassion.net)
Hamid Hassan is a right-arm fast bowler who made his ODI debut for Afghanistan in the 2009 ICC World Cup Qualifier. Hassan was the leading wicket-taker in that tournament and has since played 18 ODIs, taking 33 wickets at an excellent average of 19.30. A key member of the Afghan side that gained ODI status in 2009, he was also part of Afghanistan's successful 2010 Asian Cricket Council Trophy Elite squad.
The 26-year-old has also played 13 T20Is, taking 22 wickets at 13.13 and was included in the Afghanistan squad for the 2010 World T20 in the West Indies. His performances showed he could make the step up from associate-level cricket where his mix of pace and ability to bowl yorkers helped him to take 1/8 from the three overs he bowled against India and 3/21 in the next game against South Africa, including the prize wicket of Jacques Kallis.
It hasn't been an easy journey for the pace bowler who left his home in Jalalabad at a young age and moved to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he learnt his cricket. His passion and skill was identified at a young age, when in 2006 he played against the MCC, troubling the opposition with his pace. He toured England with Afghanistan in the same year, returning to England a few years later to hone his skills in English league cricket.
Although ruled out of the latter stages of the World T20 Qualifiers in UAE with a knee injury, Hamid was understandably proud of yet another milestone which has been achieved by his team as they qualified for the ICC's mega event in 2014.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the paceman spoke about his feelings after Afghanistan's qualification for both the 2014 and 2015 World Cup events, the reaction to the team's success back home, his close ties with Pakistani cricket and hopes of playing Test cricket for his country in the future.
PakPassion.net: How do you feel about Afghanistan's performances during their successful qualification campaign for the World T20 2014?
Hamid Hassan: Alhamdulillah [Praise to God] it went really well. Throughout this campaign we steadily improved in our batting, bowling and fielding. Although we struggled in the earlier matches, losing comprehensively to the Netherlands, the boys fought back really well after that loss. We then defeated Nepal by a big margin of 9 wickets, which showed that we never give up and then completed our qualification by beating Kenya by 34 runs. This along with our qualification for the 2015 World Cup is a great achievement and we are all very proud of this feat.
PakPassion.net: You suffered an injury during the World T20 qualifiers, what is the status of your recovery?
Hamid Hassan: Unfortunately I have been ruled out for the upcoming games in the qualifiers (UAE) as I have an injury to my left knee. The doctor has advised me to rest for at least two weeks. Nonetheless I'm not too concerned about my injury as the team has done a great job and I am very proud of all the boys, who are performing really well. Izzatullah Dawlatzai has been called in as my replacement and I am sure he will make us all proud too. Hopefully I will be available for the games against Pakistan and also for the Qualifier Finals. I'm really looking forward to getting back to action soon.
PakPassion.net: Qualifying for the 2015 World Cup was obviously great news for you. How were the celebrations when you went back home?
Hamid Hassan: Honestly, it was like a dream come true for us! We never thought that one day we will be featuring in the cricket World Cup. It is only due to the efforts of our players, the coaching staff, management and also our cricket Board who supported us and gave us the opportunity to represent our country. It was simply great.
When we reached Kabul, it was unbelievable. People had come to the airport in large numbers to receive us. They were all celebrating with the players. They were dancing all around Kabul, Jalalabad and the rest of Afghanistan. Apart from our fans in the country, we also have a a lot of Afghan supporters who live outside Afghanistan. From what I hear, even those supporters living outside Afghanistan were celebrating our victory!.
I really want to thank everyone living in Afghanistan and outside of the country for praying and supporting the team and also for offering their best wishes for us. We are lucky to have supporters like that in Afghanistan and beyond.
PakPassion.net: Do you feel this accomplishment will help the people in Afghanistan?
Hamid Hassan: It is a great accomplishment for our country. Sport can change a lot of things in a country and I hope that the pride the people feel will help them make the country even better and resolve many of our problems. We are lucky and honoured to be playing for our country and hopefully we can bring a lot of people together through the game.
When we win people from all parts of the country, whether they are Pashtuns, Persians, Tajik or Uzbek or others who live in the country come together and celebrate our success. InshAllah [God-willing], we can bring more happiness and joy to our nation through cricket and also unite our people.
PakPassion.net: What do you think the future has in store for cricket in Afghanistan?
Hamid Hassan: There has been a lot of improvement going on. We now have two or three international grounds and there are more grounds currently under construction. We have some good academies and their numbers are increasing. The most positive point for us is that lots of players are coming through, especially from schools, colleges, and universities. Youngsters are taking a lot of interest in the game now. This is the big plus point of our recent victories and people are really taking an interest in cricket. God-willing we will provide some more excellent cricketers in the future for our country as a result of this growing interest in cricket.
I think cricket is the number one sport in Afghanistan now and we are looking ahead to a good future for our cricket. The interest is so much that whenever we are playing cricket, people are following us through the internet, radio and through other media. People really love cricket which is a good thing. All our players are now very famous in Afghanistan, they have a lot of fans and wherever we go people are taking pictures and wanting autographs. Let me tell you that it's a great feeling when someone asks for your autograph but that is because our fans care for us. Hopefully, this will help in making the game even more popular in the country.
PakPassion.net: Looking ahead to the 2015 ICC World Cup, which batsman are you looking forward to bowling at in that tournament?
Hamid Hassan: To be honest, it doesn't matter to me who I'm bowling to. It makes no difference for me whether I am bowling to an opener or a number 11 batsman. I enjoy bowling and my cricket regardless of whoever is in front of me. Whether it is a world class team or a superstar cricketer, I want to make sure that I play good cricket.
I am looking forward to putting in some good performances in the World Cup. I just hope that I don't get injured again as it will be an honour to play against the top nations and against the best players in the 2015 World Cup. I am really excited and hopefully the days will pass quickly so I can play in this tournament!
PakPassion: How much has your coach Kabir Khan contributed to your success?
Hamid Hassan: A huge amount! Without coaching and guidance you can not improve your cricket and from the day he joined the Afghanistan team in 2008, things have really improved for us. We needed someone who knows how to play cricket and has a good understanding of the game. Kabir has helped a lot in this respect, as our boys were not ready for 50 overs or T20 cricket. They weren't prepared as they didn't have the patience and technique to play such formats. However, when he came he changed the mindset of the players. So a big thank you to our coach, Kabir Khan. He has done very well and he's still continuing to improve us as individuals and as a team. We are lucky to have a coach like him.
PakPassion: You wear a headband during matches, do you draw inspiration from Waqar Younis or Dennis Lillee?
Hamid Hassan: No I'm the one and only, Hamid Hassan! I'm not copying or trying to be anyone. I like wearing it and have the flag of Afghanistan on it. I feel proud wearing it as I'm representing my country, from which I draw inspiration. That's why I'm always wearing the Afghanistan flag headband. I sometimes even paint the Afghan flag on my face as it really does make me feel very proud that I am representing my country.
PakPassion: You had a serious knee injury in 2012. Were you worried that you may not play again after that?
Hamid Hassan: Yes I was very worried. When I was injured I had two operations on my knee. I thought I would never be able to play again! I would feel upset as I knew that other players were on the field playing cricket and I was unable to do that due to my injury. During the eight months when I was injured and unable to play, I tried not to watch much cricket because whenever I used to watch it, I used to get quite upset and depressed.
However, I would like to thank my family and my fans for helping me through that time. Usually when someone is injured, no one cares about him or asks about him but I really want to thank the Afghanistan media, people and my family who cared about me and my health during that tough time.
Whenever I heard or saw reports about myself in the news, it used to give me added energy and inspiration and I would say to myself "You can make it Hamid, just try your best". I did most of my rehab myself, and just 20 percent with the Physio and trainer. The rest of the training was my own effort. Looking back, I feel very lucky as it's like I had been given a second life in cricket. Of course I am thankful to almighty Allah for His help in allowing me to have another opportunity to play for Afghanistan.
PakPassion: What sort of support have Pakistan provided to the Afghanistan team?
Hamid Hassan: I want to thank the Pakistan Cricket Board for giving us the chance to let us play and participate in domestic cricket in Pakistan in previous years. We are going to play Pakistan again on the 8th of December, so hopefully we can give them a tough time as Afghanistan are a good team in the T20 format.
Pakistan has always been supportive, whether it be domestic cricket or letting us use the National Cricket Academy facilities in Lahore on many occasions. They really have been helping us a lot and we are very grateful for their assistance.
PakPassion: When you play Pakistan, is it very competitive or quite friendly?
Hamid Hassan: It's cricket, you have to be serious and you have to concentrate on the game. After the game we can be friendly, but during the match you have to focus and try hard and put in the best effort you can.
PakPassion: Do you get much advice from any of the current Pakistani players?
Hamid Hassan: Certainly. I have played a lot of cricket with Umar Gul in Peshawar and he was the captain of our team in club cricket. He's a really nice guy and a good friend. Umar Gul has been an inspiration and has always provided me with really good advice and a great deal of help when I was with him in the academy or at our cricket club. It's always good to take advice from the senior players whether from Pakistan or any other team and whether it's in batting or bowling, it doesn't matter as there is always room to learn more.
PakPassion: Who are your favourite bowlers?
Hamid Hassan: My favourite cricketer was Andrew Flintoff. I'm also a big fan of Shoaib Akhtar, I love his bowling as I just loved watching him bowl fast or when he was bowling reverse swing. I am also an admirer of legends such as Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram as well as Glenn McGrath, but my all time favourite is Flintoff! I was a big fan of his, especially when he performed in the 2005 Ashes Series in England. The way he bowled and batted it was just great to watch. I can't bat like Flintoff but I can reverse the ball and bowl outswing, whether it's with the old ball or the new ball.
PakPassion.net: Are there any batsman that you specifically wish to bowl to in future?
Hamid Hassan: One of the best players at the moment is Virat Kohli and he is doing so well. I haven't bowled to him yet but I would love to one day, so let's see what happens! He is a complete cricketer and has got all the shots, be it the pull shot, the cover drive or the cut shot. Kohli's a very mature and talented player and I think he will get lots of runs in the future. The way Virat is batting, one day he might even break Sachin's records if he continues like this. He really is a very talented player!
PakPassion.net: In the Afghanistan team, who are the players you feel can help Afghanistan attain Test status, as that must be the next target?
Hamid Hassan: We have some good batsmen, like Mohammad Shahzad, the captain Mohammad Nabi, Nawroz Mangal, Noor Ali - they're all very good players and we also have some other good talent coming through as well. They're all mature now and hopefully will continue to perform in the upcoming matches. InshAllah [God-willing] one day we will make it.
We're concentrating on playing good cricket and the rest we leave to fate. We target one tour at a time and one day Afghanistan will attain Test status. The day is not far away because the team is playing very well.