Pakistan’s triumph in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 was nothing but a fairytale. From a terrible beginning of the campaign to bouncing back to Pakistan’s skipper Sarfraz Ahmed getting trolled for his English speaking skills to defeating the reigning champions, India, in style in the final, Pakistan experienced more than a few emotions in the 18-day ICC event. They entered Champions Trophy as the lowest-ranked side at No. 8 and no one in their wildest dreams had imagined this bunch would walk away with the coveted trophy. The credit for Pakistan’s magical journey, without a doubt, shall be divided among the few players who consistently performed for them. Amongst those, was a 23-year-old Hasan Ali.

Who is Hasan Ali? 

When Hasan made his first appearance in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in 2014, he was welcomed with questions like, “Who is this guy? Why have you brought him here?” by journalists in a press conference. Hasan took merely two years to put across the world who he really was. Born in a small city of Mandi Bahauddin in Pakistan, Hasan made his international debut in 2016 against Ireland. Having barely played 16 ODIs, Hasan was included in Pakistan’s Champions Trophy squad. He had completed Pakistan’s fast bowling quartet along with Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Junaid Khan.

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At the end of the eighth edition of Champions Trophy in England, the cricket fraternity now is well aware of who Hasan Ali is. The medium pacer notched up 13 wickets from five matches to end as the Player of the Series. He does not touch 90 miles per hour but he is quick enough when he bowls with different variations. More importantly, he has been consistent with his lines and lengths. His brilliant off-cutters, in-swingers and of course, reverse-swings have set him apart from the rest of the bowlers.

The middle-overs specialist

Hasan might not create the panic like Mohammad Amir but his disciplined bowling never fails to trouble a batsman. Following a few strict deliveries one after the other, the batsman automatically gets under pressure. That’s when a batsman tends to commit a mistake and in turn, throw away his wicket to Hasan.

Hasan, unlike Amir and Junaid, is not a new ball specialist but is accurate in his action. He has been more of a middle-over specialist. Whenever Sarfraz gave him the ball with a hope of a dismissal, Hasan almost never disappointed his captain. Apart from Pakistan’s opening match against India, Hasan’s first breakthrough always came either in his first over or second.

After a poor show against India in Birmingham, he came back strong against South Africa in the same venue of Edgbaston. Hasan was given the ball for the first time in the 23rd over when South Africa were 90 for 3. Two balls later, Proteas’ key batsman Faf du Plessis was gone.

Although he went wicketless in the next two overs, he gave away just three runs. Hasan struck in his fourth over and this time he clinched two wickets in a row. First, he removed dangerous JP Duminy before he dismissed Wayne Parnell for a golden duck. Pakistan, against all expectations, won the match by 19 runs, according to D/L method and Hasan Ali was the Player of the Match for his figures of 3 for 24 in eight overs.

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The fast bowler replicated his success when Pakistan faced Sri Lanka in Cardiff. The only difference was, he was hit for runs in his first over. Kusal Mendis survived an inside edge on the fourth ball of Hasan’s second over. However, the settled batsman had to walk back after he was beaten by Hasan’s sharp bowling. While Mendis tried to defend it towards the leg side, the ball beat him and hit the top of the off-stump. The Sri Lankans managed to keep Hasan quiet in the next five overs he had bowled. The youngster thumped in the 46th over with the wicket of Lakmal. That was followed by Gunaratne’s dismissal on the first ball of the penultimate over. The Lankans were bundled out for 236 runs in 49.2 overs and Pakistan had sealed the match and a semi-final spot by winning the game by three wickets.

Father’s wish fulfilled…

Prior to Pakistan’s semi-final fixture against England, Hasan Ali’s father spoke to the media about wanting to watch his son dismiss the English Captain, Eoin Morgan. “The wicket of Captain Eoin Morgan is necessary and God willing my son will take it,” Hasan Ali’s father told Geo News. In the crucial game against the hosts, Sarfraz Ahmed did not wait for the middle overs before he brought Hasan into the action. The 23-year-old bowled for the first time in the match in the 17th over. It took him three deliveries to bring smiles on his teammates’ faces. England’s Jonny Bairstow misjudged the bounce and pace to get a top-edge caught by Mohammad Hafeez at the deep square.

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In the next three overs, neither did he make a breakthrough nor was expensive in terms of runs. Hasan was brought back for a second spell nine overs later when Ben Stokes and Morgan were at the crease. After two singles off the first three balls of the 32nd over, Hasan struck again. While Morgan tried to belt the ball down the ground, he only managed an edge and was caught behind. Yes, Hasan had full-filled his father’s wish too! Courtesy of eventual Player of the Match, Hasan’s figures of 3 for 35 in 10 overs, Pakistan restricted England to 211. A new confident Pakistan knocked the hosts out of Champions Trophy 2017.

Even though Hasan earned accolades for his performance that helped Pakistan reach the final, the job was not done. His dream was a victory away. With Wahab Riaz ruled out of the tournament due to an injury, it was the young Hasan who was leading the pace attack. Pakistan faced India in the final and it was a golden opportunity for Hasan to spearhead the attack in a crucial game. “As a cricketer from Pakistan, you grow up dreaming of a victory against India and to be a performer in that match. I am getting another opportunity to play against India and will give my level best to play a match-winning role in it,” Hasan said before the grand finale.

Hasan lives his dream…

Hasan was already the bowler of the tournament with 10 wickets from four games, before the final. This time around, at the Oval, Sarfraz Ahmed handed Hasan the ball even earlier. India’s 12th over was Hasan’s first and as always he was economical. Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni managed to grab just three runs off Hasan’s opening over. India were 50 for 3; there was immense pressure on the defending champions; Dhoni was on strike and Hasan was with the ball. After two dot balls, the former Indian captain had to depart. Hasan took out his strongest weapon, the short ball. He bowled short at Dhoni, who pulled it hard but was caught by a diving Imad Wasim. Hasan broke into his trademark celebration and that manifested what Dhoni’s wicket meant to him and Pakistan.

Hasan then removed Ravichandran Ashwin that left India in an embarrassing situation of 156 for 9 in 29 overs. Indian pacer, Jasprit Bumrah survived Hasan’s seven consecutive deliveries before he finally gave up. It was the third ball of the 31st over, Bumrah flipped it into the air, Pakistan’s wicketkeeper-captain, Sarfraz, leapt forward to claim the catch and that moment sealed the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 for Pakistan!

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The unexpected had happened. Pakistan had mauled the defending champions Team India. The fairytale had been written. There were many heroes in this story for Pakistan but there was one, who stood right on the top – a 23-year-old Hasan Ali. He had been magnificent with the ball throughout the ICC tournament. His 13 wickets from five matches ensured Pakistan completed their ICC set and finally wore the dazzling white blazers on the green jersey!

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