Hamid Hassan and the Power of Junoon

When you run a blog like this, which has been around a while and has gained the odd bit of praise and notoriety here and there, people contact you from time to time about contributing guest posts. Invariably you rapidly develop the impression that what they're likely to contribute isn't going to add very much to the sum of human knowledge. My favourites are the ones (not as rare as you might think) who don't seem to have noticed that the blog is about cricket and offer to write about something completely different. On those occasions, I tend to say no.

However, when Nihar Suthar contacted me about writing something for the site, I decided to say yes. Nihar is the author of The Corridor of Uncertainty, a new book about the rise of Afghan cricket. As everyone knows, the way in which Afghanistan has risen to relative prominence in a historically and culturally alien world is one of the most remarkable cricket stories of the new millennium.

With the World T20 getting under way, Nihar has contributed a profile of Hamid Hassan, one of the stalwarts of the side, who has just been recalled to national duty.

By now, the fairytale story of Afghan cricket has spread around the world. In the 2015 Cricket World Cup, the Afghans proved that they could compete against the best, giving the Sri Lankans all they could handle. Cricket has become contagious in Afghanistan. It is an integral fuel of life.

What is different about this team, though? We see nations full of cricket promise climbing through the ranks of the ICC all the time, yet, none of them have made the full ascent from Division 5 to Division 1 as quickly as Afghanistan has. Put simply, it’s because of cricketers like Hamid Hassan. Hamid is without a doubt the best fast bowler in the Afghan team, and arguably one of the most powerful bowlers in world cricket. Yet his talent is not what sets him and his team apart.

He constantly reinforces the importance of junoon with his teammates. Junoon is an Urdu expression for passion. Hamid is just one of the many players on the Afghan side who eats, sleeps, and breathes constant junoon for cricket. He can never stop thinking about it. His mind is always immersed in cricket.

Hamid grew up in the refugee camps of Kacha Garhi, Pakistan, and it was there that he fell in love with cricket. At the age of just sixteen he had to make a major decision for the game he held so dear. Taj Malik, one of the people who is credited with getting the Afghan national cricket team off the ground, came to Kacha Garhi in 2003 to recruit future stars for Afghanistan. He was drawn to Hamid and tried to convince him to come back to Afghanistan. At that time, Afghanistan's cricket infrastructure was non-existent.

Taj went straight to Hamid’s father and said, “Salaam. My name is Taj Malik, and I am the coach of the Afghan national cricket team. I want to request you to leave Hamid with me. He wants to go to Afghanistan to play some cricket in Kabul.”

Hamid’s father was far from happy. He started cursing at Taj, and angrily responded, “Get lost. Hamid is my son. I don’t want to let him go. He has school exams coming in ten days.”

Taj kept pushing. “Hamid has great talent to be a professional cricketer.”

Hamid’s father scoffed. “No he does not. Look at his weight!” Hamid weighed 268 pounds.

“Have you asked Hamid what he wishes to do?” asked Taj.

Hamid’s father exploded. “It doesn’t matter. Just take Hamid and go away from here. If anything happens to him, you will be responsible.”

Taj was alarmed, but Hamid quickly interjected before the episode could escalate. “Stop arguing! Taj, go and wait for me on the road. I am coming.”

Hamid had no idea what to do. He was torn. He was just a boy. Confused, he went to his mother and broke down. “Mother, I wish to go to Afghanistan to play cricket with Taj, but father does not want me to go. What should I do?”

Hamid’s mother simply advised, “Son, this is your love, this is your choice. If you see a future for yourself in cricket, just go for it. If there is no future, why do you wish to waste your time and life like this?”

Hamid sobbed. He fully believed that he had a future in cricket. After receiving blessings from his mother, Hamid left with just $35 to his name and trekked over 200 miles to Kabul. It was the beginning of his professional cricket career. He called his father from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. “Dad, I’m sorry I left without saying anything. I’m going to Kabul. Please don’t mind. One day, I promise I’m going to make you very proud.”

Since that point in time, Hamid has devoted his body and soul to the junoon for cricket. He is driven to make his parents and his country proud. Furthermore, he has infused that same junoon into all the cricketers around him. Hamid is truly an example of how far the idea of junoon can take a cricketer and an entire nation. Ultimately, raw passion and drive for the game is even more important than natural talent or honed skill.

Nihar Suthar (www.niharsuthar.com) is a narrative non-fiction writer, and has written The Corridor of Uncertainty, about the miraculous and inspiring rise of the Afghan cricket team. It features never-before heard stories and narratives from the players. Purchase your copy at www.thecorridorofuncertainty.com.

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