Mohammad Hafeez: The sweetly timed turnaround
Two years ago, Hafeez and Misbah were nowhere to be seen, now, one leads and the other seems destined to.
About 18 months ago, Mohammad Hafeez was wondering where he had gone wrong — he probably hadn’t seen himself play cricket.
His comeback series after almost three years in the wilderness - the 2010 World Twenty20 - lasted six matches, 39 runs and two wickets. So when he was selected for the limited-overs squad to take on England that summer, shock prevailed.
He hadn’t scored a half-century since December 2006 and despite an all-rounder’s tag, failed to get more than three wickets since October 2003.
He averaged 18.6 with the bat after 48 ODIs. There was a huge uproar following his selection and the followers eyed the selectors’ blood.
Fourteen months on, Hafeez has become the first One-Day International cricketer to take 25 wickets and score 1,000 runs in a calendar year, leaving the same individuals bewildered at the turnaround.
Since last summer, he’s scored four centuries, 13 half-centuries and has 62 wickets to go with the catches, diving stops and on-field advice.
Part of the success – and a ‘one of the best all-rounders’ tag from his captain – could be his affinity with his teammates, having played with many in various domestic and age-levels.
But the majority stems from the struggle within, to overcome the condemnation, the public wrath, admission of his shortcomings and age.
Hafeez often captained his domestic side SNGPL en route its Quaid Trophy triumph in the team’s maiden season, at times when Misbahul Haq was away on national duty. Then, despite the absence of his first-choice players, he planned big, all the while parting advice, particularly to Umar Akmal who was in his debut first-class season.
Recently, he admitted it had taken a lot of ‘hard work’ in order to improve his skills and performance, especially with the bat where he was found lacking more.
Bowling, he admitted, came naturally to him but the trust of the captains – Misbah and Shahid Afridi, especially in the World Cup – where he was persisted with and even allowed to open the bowling, had to be won off the meat of the bat.
“I worked very hard on my technique, which has paid off and really given me a lot of confidence,” said Hafeez after one of his all-round shows in Dubai.
Confidence has also made its way across to the followers given the lost cause that is finding successors to Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail.
He seems an average cricketer, there is no class oozing out of his shots and his top-spinners are usually non-turners.
His batting devoid of massive sixes, the bowling seemingly innocuous. There is no gold shop round his neck and the hair colour mostly remains natural.
But he’s grown up from his scrambling days – although random wafts are still witnessed – and employs his brain to the task.
“It’s really a blessing to have a person like him in the team,” said Misbah.
Two years ago, Hafeez and Misbah were nowhere to be seen.
Now, one leads and the other seems destined to.