When he was not even a teenager, Hussain Talat used to sit in his family’s sports shop in Shahdrah, Lahore and occasionally sell fire-crackers and bangles as a side hustle. Not even in his wildest dreams would he have believed that seven years later he would be representing Pakistan.
Hussain’s love and passion for the game got him to where he is and his story is an inspiration for anyone wanting to take up cricket as a professional career.
“I’ve struggled a lot to get where I am right now”, Hussain, who turned 22 years old earlier this year, told Piñata. “My father always wanted my elder brother Hassan to go into cricket and thus, he followed a strict schedule which included going to practice every morning before school began.” But their father found Hussain more willing to go the extra mile and eventually, Hussain replaced Hassan in the pecking order.
This, however, was just the start of Hussain’s journey. He soon had to choose between cricket and studies and luckily he found a middle ground.
“When I reached 7th grade, I got myself admitted into the Muslim Model High School. This school was specifically designed for children willing to take up sports, they’d allow us to play the whole year without formally taking classes and allowed us to give exams at the end of the academic year. The school arranged net sessions for students every morning in Minto Park. After those sessions, I would dash back to my shop in Shahdrah and in the evening, I used to come back to Minto park to play for my club, the Victorious Cricket club. Then I had to go back to attend to my shop and I’d often stay there till midnight.”
While other kids his age were being kids, much of Hussain Talat’s teenage years were spent traveling between his shop in Shahdrah and Minto park. He had a singular goal, to play for his country at the top level, and he had to make a lot of sacrifices to get there.
Throughout Hussain’s journey, you see conviction and self-belief.
He initially started his career as a leg-spinner but he always envied bowling fast with aggression. “My father used to tell me that due to the abundance of fast bowlers in our country, I stood a better chance of breaking into the Pakistan team as a leg-spinner. So I started off as a leg-spinner but always wanted to bowl fast and trouble batsmen. Luckily, I found good coaches during the start of my career who further helped me hone my skills as a medium pacer”.
Solid performances for his club made Hussain a household name in Lahore’s cricket circles. He was soon rewarded for his hard work as he was picked for Lahore’s Under-19 team, in 2010, which led to a contract with Zarai Tarqiati Bank Limited. Consistent performances for ZTBL resulted in an offer from Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited which Hussain gleefully accepted.
“Playing for SNGPL brought a lot of maturity in me. I played there with the likes of Misbah ul Haq, Muhammad Hafeez, Asad Shafiq & Umar Akmal. For a youngster to play in the company of all those seasoned campaigners and learn from them every day, that helped me develop a deeper understanding of the game.”
Then came the big thing, the PSL. Hussain had been performing in domestic T20 tournaments for quite some time now and he believed getting picked by a franchise would be easy. But he was in for a rude shock.
“I was playing a match in Karachi and I got to know that all teams had picked their 15 players and I’ve gone unsold. Then half an hour later, I got a call that I’ve been picked by Islamabad in the supplementary round. I didn’t even know what a supplementary player meant back then but I still heaved a sigh of relief.”
Hussain thinks that PSL has changed Pakistan cricket for the better.
“Before the PSL, there have been players who’ve spent their entire careers performing in the first class circuit without getting noticed. But luckily, the PSL has come at the right time for players of our generation. It has made domestic cricket mainstream and helped domestic players get noticed by the media and selectors. It has become a launch pad for getting into the national team.
Additionally, PSL has also made many cricketers, including myself, financially stable. Players in our domestic structure are paid peanuts and that is the biggest problem plaguing our first-class circuit. Being paid handsomely in the PSL has inadvertently bolstered our performances because now we can buy good equipment. So the PSL has been the best thing to happen to Pakistan cricket.”
Hussain is also full of praise for Islamabad United’s coaching and management staff. “I’ve been lucky to play under some of the greats of the game”, he says. “I grew up watching Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Dean Jones, Saeed Ajmal, Tauseef Ahmad and then to play under their tutelage and learn from them was nothing less than a dream.”
But Hussain reserves his highest praise for United’s managers – Rehan ul Haq and Hassan Cheema – and calls them the driving force behind Islamabad United’s PSL wins. Regarding them, he says “They might not have played cricket professionally but they know the art of backing players. Coaching will help you till a certain point but the words of appreciation someone has for you, particularly when you’re down, you remember them forever. Hassan and Rehan kept motivating me during the first two seasons where I seldom got to play. Had it not been for their motivation & mentoring, I might not have performed the way I did in this PSL.”
By virtue of being an all-rounder, its only natural Hussain’s cricket heroes are all-rounders as well. He calls Jacques Kallis, Shane Watson and Abdul Razzaq his inspirations. “I was lucky to share the Islamabad dressing room for two years with Watson, who I’ve been following since my childhood. And since Razzaq bhai and I come from the same town, he is an inspiration to everyone in Shahdrah. We even have a stadium named after him there and growing up, Abdul Razzaq was the cricketer I wished to emulate.”
Hussain Talat has made his debut for Pakistan in the T20 format but he still believes he has a long way to go. “I’ve made a good start in the international arena, where I won the Man of the Match award in my very first match but this is only the start. I want to nail down a permanent spot in all three formats of the game and if given the opportunity, I’ll play with the same brand of cricket I’ve played all my life: Aggressive, attacking cricket.