Hafeez, an unsung hero?
After the spot fixing saga in 2010, Pakistan was in desperate need of a solid opener to fill the gap left by Salman Butt. And it was none other than Mohammad Hafeez who took the challenge upon himself to work his way into becoming Pakistan’s next regular opener in all three formats.
Before 2010, Hafeez had a questionable batting average and his inclusion in the team was criticised because he was never able to establish himself as a preferred player in our team. Despite that he worked hard on his techniques and scored numerous runs against competitive teams like England, South Africa and New Zealand. From having a low average to becoming Pakistan’s first choice opener with an average of almost 35, he exhibited the determination to improve. In fact, it would not be farfetched to say that the best phase of his career was during the couple of years in which he was the opener.
Having seen his progress, even Shahid Afridi praised him as a true team-player and someone Afridi would go to for advice every so often. After Afridi’s decline in form, Hafeez became Pakistan’s main all-rounder and won 14 Man of the Match awards, one of which was given to him after the 2011 World Cup quarter-final. No other Pakistani cricket player has won that many awards. In addition to this, according to the latest ICC ODI rankings, Hafeez is the best all-rounder in the world! Despite all these achievements, many people in Pakistan label him as selfish and a failure. They never understood his importance and the balance he brought to the team.
Unlike many other Pakistani players, Hafeez has never been involved in any spot-fixing or ball-tampering incidents. In fact, Hafeez is the only Pakistani player who was nominated for the Spirit of Cricket award in 2012 for not claiming a false catch versus England in UAE. Considering how our players have given us global recognition in terms of cricket scandals, it was quite a great moment of pride for me to see a member of our team being nominated for the award.
His excellent form led him taking over T20 captaincy from Misbahul Haq just three months before the 2012 World Cup. Despite his late appointment, he led his team to the semi-finals, winning four out of six matches. During the tournament, Pakistan won against teams like Australia, South Africa and even defeated the reigning T20 champions, West Indies. His knock against India in Bangalore sealed the victory for Pakistan against India after a long gap of four years. Hafeez made a record of winning most matches as captain and our team rose to the second position in the ICC rankings.
During the 2014 World Cup, due to poor performance, Hafeez stepped down from his post as captain on his own. To this, even Imran Khan, Pakistan’s World Cup winning captain, expressed his disappointment and asked Hafeez to reconsider his decision. In a country like Pakistan where people never willingly give up a position of power, it was refreshing to see such a controversy free resignation. Like Imran Khan though, I was very sad to see Hafeez leave the post – to me, he had taken the team to new heights and I was hoping he would continue to do so. After his resignation, however, the Pakistan cricket team engaged in locker-room politics once again and appointed Afridi as the new captain. And it was due to these politics that we had the dreadful series against Australia.
Unfortunately, due to a hand injury Hafeez did not participate in the recent series and his absence was felt most when the team failed to find the right balance. Yes, it is no easy feat to replace a player who bats up the order at three and bowls 10 overs; I wish taking him for granted was as difficult.
His bowling, particularly against the likes of David Warner and Mitchell Johnson, would have been extremely useful in this series. The last time Pakistan and Australia played, Hafeez scored 99 runs in three matches at an average of 33 and took more than four wickets including those of Michael Clarke and Warner. Although he could not do anything special with the bat, his contribution with the ball was spot on and barred any effort to make runs, frustrating the Australian batsmen into eventually succumbing to our bowlers.
In short, Hafeez is one player who has demonstrated exemplary talent in all three formats of the game and has played a crucial role in reviving Pakistani cricket post 2010. In my opinion, Hafeez has been nothing short of a hero for the Pakistani cricket team and his fans. He should be given the respect he deserves and the respect his performances demand.