“There is no Mohammad Amir in this team,” says Zakir Khan, former Pakistan pacer and now U-19 manager, dismissing the query. “You get that kind of player once in 10 years,” he adds. When you pester him a bit more, he blurts out “Sameen Gul”. “Tez phenkta hai.” Pause. “Ek aur hai, Hasan Mohsin, he is not fast but very talented. A real good prospect,” adds Khan. It’s remarkable that the Pakistan Under-19 team’s most prospective medium pacer didn’t even bowl medium pace till six months ago. He used to bowl leg-spin.
“I was a leg-spinner till 2015. Last year, when I was playing a regional tournament, my coach gave me the advice that I can bowl good medium fast bowling,” says Mohsin.
He has just won his team the match against Sri Lanka with superlative all-round performance, helping Pakistan make the quarter-final with three wins in three matches from Group B. They will now face the West Indies in last eight, while Sri Lanka will take on England.
Junior cricket is also about trial and error till you find out your true calling. Failed opening batsmen at this level can go on to become world-class bowlers in senior cricket. Ravichandran Ashwin, for instance, once played as opener at the under-17 level. And failed. Then he took up off-spin. Actually, it’s never late to change. Aussie skipper Steve Smith, who was once seen as the next Shane Warne, is now acknowledged as the world’s leading batsman.
Mohsin’s story is different from that of Smith. For him leg-spin was a part-time pursuit as he always thought of himself as a batsman. His coach in the Karachi region was Muhammad Masroor, who is now also Pakistan’s Under-19 coach. Masroor encouraged the youngster to make the switch. “Mohsin began his career under me. Bowling with the new ball is his strength and his away swing is good. If he is given confidence, he will do good,” Masroor says.
Pakistan have been giving him confidence by showing faith in him. On Wednesday, he was sharing the new ball with Gul. Sri Lanka were chasing 213, and Pakistan needed to strike early. His first two ball were wide because of the swing and seam movement that he was generating. This skill hasn’t been on display much at Mirpur. It got the opener Avishka Fernando thinking. As Mohsin got the line right, the Sri Lankan right hander left one alone and took a swipe at another. Then the Pakistani produced a peach. It was a length delivery that angled in and landed just outside off, drawing the batsman out and taking his outside edge as it seamed away from him. The first-slip fielder took a diving catch. Mohsin dismissed the other opener, Kaveen Bandara, too, tempting the left-hander into flirting with an away going one.
By reducing Sri Lanka to 21/1 in the sixth, Mohsin gave Pakistan the boost they needed to defend a modest total.
“I always try to bowl line and length, wickets come by themselves. My aim is always to stay on one type of swing at the start and keep bowling line and length. So when I contain the batsmen, I get a wicket,” says Mohsin, whose role model in bowling is Abdul Razzaq. Like Razzaq, he is shaping into a good all-arounder.
In fact, his biggest contribution today came with bat. He walked in when Pakistan were 70 for three in the 20th over. Wickets were falling regular intervals and the Sri Lankan spinners looked in control. Mohsin used his feet and soft hands to take single and twos.“My approach was to safeguard my wicket as well as keep the runs flowing because our batsmen at the top got out really early. So, when Umair Masood was playing with me, our discussion was to build a partnership inshallah and save our wicket as well,” he says.
His 61-run fifth-wicket partnership with Salman Fayyaz took Pakistan past 150. Then with overs winding down, he opened up and played some breathtaking shots. He used the sweep and cut to good effect, but the most audacious shot was an AB-style scoop off Avishka Fernando over short fine-leg for four. “The situation was such that I had to, because the field was such. The fast bowler was bowling and to hit straight wasn’t easy. So I thought I’ll sit down and scoop.”
The next ball he muscled from way outside off to cow corner for six. A century seemed ripe for the taking but he missed an attempted reverse sweep off left-arm spinner Charith Asalanka and had his wickets shattered. “I like batting at no.4 or 5 because I believe I play spinners better. At whichever position I bat, I always try to pull my team out of difficult situations and do well for them,” he says.
He also wants to do well for his family. The Karachi lad was introduced to cricket by his father, who had played a bit of club cricket. “My father has supported my a lot, he always worked with me and all the credit goes to him. Walid saab doesn’t have a job now, so I try to do well in cricket and support my home.”
Brief scores: Pakistan: 212 all out; 48.4 overs (Hasan Mohsin 86, Salman Fayyaz 33; Damitha Silva 2/41, Thilan Nimesh 2/38, Wanidu Hasaranga 2/30) bt Sri Lanka: 189 all out; 46.4 overs (Kamindu Mendis 68, Vishad Randika 46; Shadab Khan 3/31, Sameen Gul 2/29, Hasan Mohsin 2/28, Ahmad Shafiq 2/23) by 23 run