Mohammad Hafeez, born on October 17, 1980, is Pakistan’s dependable all-round player who can deliver in any department. An opening batsman who bowls off-spin, Hafeez fits into the mould of modern cricket. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at his career.
Mohammad Hafeez is your quintessential modern cricketer. With teams looking for the multi-dimensional player, Hafeez fits the bill to perfection given his proficient all-round abilities. With the bat, he can tune his game according to the situation and lay the foundation upfront. His off-spinners can nag the batsman with its relentless accuracy. And of course, he is one of the safest fielders. The sub-continental giants were looking for such players in the 2000s and Hafeez and Shoaib Malik were the perfect candidates for the job.
Born on October 17, 1980 in Sargodha, Hafeez first played representative cricket in 1998 when he turned up for Sargodha under-19s. In 1999, he made his First-Class debut for Sargodha in a Qaeed-e-Azam Trophy match against Karachi Whites. Interestingly, Hafeez’s future Pakistan teammate and captain Misbah-ul-Haq also made his First-Class debut in the same game. On List A debut for Sargodha, Hafeez scored 51. Over the next two years, he grew as a player and averaged in the 30s in First-Class cricket.
In the 2001-02 domestic season, Hafeez scored 919 runs at an average of 39.95 with three tons and four fifties. The next season was also fruitful as he scored 251 runs in seven matches at 31.37. He did well in one-day cricket as well in 2002-03 as he scored 504 runs at an average of 56 in 10 matches. Following Pakistan’s early exit at the 2003 World Cup, Hafeez found himself in the team as numerous regulars were dropped.
His first assignment was the Quadrangular series in Sharjah in 2003. On One-Day International (ODI) debut, which was against Zimbabwe, he scored 12 and took two wickets for 41. In his second game, he scored 50 to set the ball rolling for a successful run-chase for Pakistan against Sri Lanka. He also found himself on the subsequent one-day tours to Sri Lanka and England, where he did decently well with both bat and ball. In August 2003, he made his Test debut against Bangladesh at Karachi. Having failed in the first innings, he responded with a gritty 50 during Pakistan’s run-chase in the second.
As a result, Hafeez was retained for the next Test and duly repaid the faith with a blazing 102 not out while chasing 163 in the last innings. However, he played only one more Test and was not considered for almost three years. On the ODI front, he played the subsequent series against Bangladesh and South Africa, but found himself out for over a year subsequently.
Hafeez only returned to the Pakistan side during their tour Down Under in 2004-05. He was a part of the Pakistan squad for the tri-series involving hosts Australia and West Indies. However, apart from an innings of 41 against West Indies, he did not contribute too much on the tour. He was still retained for the ODI series against India in 2005 and played in the only two games they lost in the rubber.
After the axe, Hafeez went back to domestic cricket and regained his lost form during the 2005-06 season. In a remarkable year, he smashed a total of four tons and nine fifties in the two major formats. Thus, he was called up for the England tour in 2006 and made his comeback during the controversial forfeited Oval Test. But, Hafeez was impressive as he scored 95 in the only innings he batted. On the tour, he also played during Pakistan’s maiden T20 international and scored 46 in a successful run-chase.
Hafeez’s stakes grew in the next few months as it included a Test ton against the West Indies at home and a few good knocks in ODIs. However, inconsistency marred his progress and by late 2007, he found himself out of all the squads. He had represented Pakistan at the World Cup in the Caribbean and the ICC World T20, without too much success. He had to bide his time for another call-up as he only returned in 2010 on the weight of consistent performances in domestic cricket.
During the ICC World T20 2010 in the West Indies, Hafeez made a comeback in to the Pakistan side. Then, he was also a part of the ODI squad for the tour of England and the series against South Africa in the United Arab Emirates. Good returns during those assignments only strengthened his spot in the lead-up to the 2011 World Cup. By then, he also made his return to the Test side. He kept proving his worth as an opening batsman and an off-spin bowling. Such is his bowling ability, that the captain would often hand him the new ball. There is that typical Saqlainesque tinge to his bowling. The run-up is nearly identical and so is the delivery stride. But, at times, there is that well-disguised pause to keep the batsman guessing.
Before the 2011 World Cup, Hafeez notched his maiden ODI hundred on the tour to New Zealand. Thus, it was quite obvious that he was the key player leading up to the big event. Hafeez did play a crucial role in Pakistan’s passage to the semi-final. In the quarter-final encounter against the West Indies, he opened the bowling and jolted the opposition early with a spell of two for 16. As if that wasn’t enough, he smashed 61 not out in a small run-chase to seal qualification to the semis. Even in the high-voltage semi-final encounter against India, he looked in control during his innings of 43, until an unnecessary shot plotted his downfall.
The year 2011 was successful for him as he kept proving his value with good all-round performances. He also grew to become one of the senior players in the side. The talent and ability was never in doubt and at last, he was showing signs of consistency. On the tour to West Indies, he shined in the ODIs with both bat and ball to take the Man of the Series award. He scored two fifties and a ton in the five ODIs. Later, on the tour to Zimbabwe, he only went on to enhance his run tally.
What was pertinent to note about Hafeez was that he took more responsibility at the top. There were the odd occasions where an unnecessary shot may have cost him his wicket, but he was largely in control of his strokeplay. When he watches the ball well, he times his shots to perfection and can split the gaps along the ground. However, there are the odd occasions, where he may go a bit too far in doing so. However, 2011 was different, as runs were flowing as he also got another ton against Bangladesh at Chittagong towards the end of the year.
In 2012, Hafeez was one of the heroes for Pakistan at the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. After hitting 89 in the first game against the hosts, he smashed 105 against the arch-rivals India. His control during that innings was amazing as nothing seemed to shake him. It was due to his ton and Nasir Jamshed’s hundred that they put up a 300-plus total. Then, Misbah threw the ball to Hafeez for the first over and he trapped Gautam Gambhir in front of the stumps. That hit India early, but they sailed through for victory. Pakistan did qualify for the final and lifted the Asia Cup.
Given his good touch and the ability to think about the game, the management had no hesitation in naming Hafeez the T20 captain and his first assignment was against Sri Lanka. The spoils were shared in the series and Hafeez continued to lead them during the ICC World T20 2012 in Sri Lanka. In that tournament, Pakistan qualified for the semi-finals, only to lose to Sri Lanka. On the tour to India that followed, he was in great touch during the T20s as his innings of 61 won them the game at Bangalore and the 55 at Ahmedabad nearly secured victory. One could see him taking his chances with complete authority during that knock.
While Hafeez continued to perform in ODIs and T20s, his form in Test cricket took a beating. He struggled in South Africa in 2013 against the pace attack and did not score too many during the Zimbabwe series as well. As a result, the selectors had to take the tough decision of dropping him from the squad for the Test series against South Africa in the UAE.
This happened a little over a year after he smashed his Test best 196 against Sri Lanka. He will remain in the ODIs and T20 squad, but he has to make another comeback. During a T20 against South Africa at Centurion in 2013, Hafeez had a dream game as he scored 86 off 54 balls and then took three for 25 to win the game for Pakistan. That is what he can do on his day!
Hafeez’s career has seen numerous comebacks and it won’t be surprising if he gets another. Nicknamed “the professor” by his teammates, there is more in store for this man. On the leadership front, can he lift the cup for Pakistan? That may be one thought dominating his mind apart from cementing his place in the team.
Hafeez’s unfinished career figures in international cricket:
In photos: Mohammad Hafeez’s cricketing career