Jun 18, 2020
Pakistan may currently be coached by two of their most famous batsmen, but for inspiration, the newest member of their squad is looking slightly east. The Attock-born Haider Ali, who rose to national prominence after scoring a half-century for Pakistan in an otherwise painfully one-sided defeat to India in the Under-19 World Cup semi-final earlier this year, views India’s Rohit Sharma as his main inspiration.
“As far as role models are concerned, mine is Rohit Sharma,” Haider said in a video press conference. “I really like him as a player, and want to give the side an aggressive start at the top, and hit the ball cleanly like him. He is a man for all three formats, and he can adapt his game to all three formats. And the thing I like best is when he crosses 50, he moves on to a 100, and then he’s thinking of 150, and even 200. That’s what I want to do: to think about getting big scores, and when I get there, aim for even bigger ones. He finishes the game off for his side, and is a real match-winner.”
Haider emerged as one of Pakistan’s most promising young batsmen by excelling in all three formats over the past few months. Having only made his first-class debut in September last year, the 19-year-old had a splendid opening season which culminated in a second-innings 134 for the unfancied Northern side in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final. It was his second hundred of the season, in addition to three half-centuries as he finished with an average a shade below 50.
At the Under-19 World Cup, his performances caught the eye of Ian Bishop, who said he reminded him of Babar Azam. Haider would soon earn a contract with Peshawar Zalmi at the Pakistan Super League, where his meteoric rise continued, his reputation enhanced by a string of steady scores at the blistering strike rate of nearly 160. Only five Pakistan batsmen scored more runs than his 239, and just two – Shadab Khan and Kamran Akmal – could boast a superior strike rate. Having shown form like this across formats, Haider wants to be a part of the Pakistan side in all three forms.
“I started my cricket in Attock as a tape-ball player in 2015. In 2016, I began to play hard ball and play for the Under-16 side and then Under-19,” Haider said. “In my family, my cousin is the only one who played cricket, and no one else. Watching him, I began to get interested in the sport.
“My aim was to represent Pakistan. My aim is to play all three formats, and my preparation for all three formats is great. Recently in the domestic first-class competition, I did well, and before that there was the U-19 World Cup. I then played the PSL, so I’ve had practice in all three formats. As soon as I get the chance, I’ll give my best.
“I always wanted to play under the coaching of Younis Khan, and I’m glad I will get the opportunity this time. I want to learn as much as possible from this tour and ask lots of questions of both Younis and Misbah [-ul-Haq]. I want to learn how to play all three formats and what mindset to approach all three formats with. I’m very excited about how much I can grow over these next three months.
“When I moved up from U-19 to the PSL, the coaches, Shoaib Malik, and Kamran Akmal gave me plenty of inspiration. They said it is essentially the same cricket, nothing too difficult. The coaches told me not to be scared, and to make the best use of my talents. And so I played my natural game and thankfully the performances followed. Even on the England tour, we have legends for coaches and I look forward to following their advice, and hopefully it works out for me.”
That Haider made his preference for a top-order role evident may put some additional pressure on Fakhar Zaman, who currently occupies that slot in the Pakistan T20I side alongside Babar Azam. Zaman has struggled for consistency over the past two years and has held onto that opening slot for lack of an appropriate replacement more than anything else. Haider, however, insisted that he was happy to fill in wherever given the chance for now.
“The fans and crowd can’t be there, so we have to cope with the conditions. Where I bat is up to our management. My role is to give my best where I am assigned to bat. Some players can play in the top order and struggle lower down. At club level, I can play both up or down the order. I’d like to bat higher up, but retain the flexibility to do a job where I’m required. I’m very excited. For England, my personal prep is complete. Whenever I get the chance, I’ll give my best and hopefully make a contribution to the team.”
He also reflected on the third anniversary of Pakistan’s victory over India in the 2017 Champions Trophy final, saying it birthed in him a desire to be a part of the Pakistan side and enjoy its highs. “I wanted to represent Pakistan at that moment. It was an unbelievable feeling. When we play against India, it is very crucial, and the fact Pakistan won in such a one-sided match was a very unbelievable feeling.”
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Last year, after Pakistan limped to an 89-run defeat against India at the World Cup in England, Sharma, who had scored a century, was asked what tips he had for Pakistan’s batsmen. “If one day I become coach of Pakistan, I’ll tell them,” he had replied. “What shall I tell them right now?”
Whatever he has to say, there’s at least one player in Pakistan’s side who’ll listen with rapt attention.
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