What inspired your wicket celebration?
I used to follow Vicky [Waqar Younis] bhai as a kid and watch his aggression. I decided that when I will play and take wickets, I will celebrate in the same aggressive way as I saw him celebrate after getting a batsman out. I am also from a family where aggression is present.
My style of celebration is especially for the fans who come to the ground leaving their job or studies. I think there should be something for them to enjoy. Maybe they will think that they should come to our next match so that they get to see me do this celebration. There will also be batsmen whose style they prefer.
Do you remember the first time you saw a fast bowler bowl?
Waqar Younis was my bowling role model. I started off as a batsman, like most kids. The first time I saw him was in 1999-2000. Then I decided that I should learn fast bowling.
What attracted you to his bowling?
His reverse swing and yorker. I went to the Champions Trophy final after watching his seven-wicket haul in a one-day game against England on YouTube. Not many of those wickets were through reverse swing; they were mostly with the new ball.
When did you first meet him?
The first time I met him was in Dubai airport. I think we were returning from the West Indies. I sat for an hour in front of him. I just kept looking at him, listening to him talk to Azhar Mahmood, our bowling coach. Azhar told Vicky bhai to give me some tips, but I was just staring at him.
How did you come across cricket as a youngster living in Ladhaywala Warraich?
Like most Pakistani cricketers, I started from the galli-mohalla [neighbourhood street cricket]. From there I played club cricket, Under-16 and U-19, then senior district, regions, and made my way to the Pakistan team.
My elder brother, Ata-ur-Rahman, was a first-class cricketer who didn’t get a lot of opportunities. He then focused on my career. He was my first role model. He gave me a lot of opportunities to play and never let me face problems. He tackled those problems and made a lot of sacrifices for me.
Peshawar Zalmi gave you your first break.
Peshawar Zalmi picked me from the emerging category, so they had a huge role in my life. Our captain, Shahid Afridi, and Mohammad Akram gave me a lot of confidence. I didn’t get a lot of wickets, but I bowled economically in the main matches and the playoff.
“The one person who really helps me is Shoaib Malik, who was also my state captain. He usually fields at mid-on or mid-off when I am bowling. He knows so much about me that I feel good talking to him on the field”
In a great breakthrough year, how do you rate your 3 for 24 against South Africa in the Champions Trophy?
It was my best performance in the tournament. It was my first Player-of-the-Match award in an ICC event. After losing to India, we needed something to lift our tournament. The spell was good for me but it was most important for the team.
And then the final
Everyone knows what a great player [MS] Dhoni is. So it is natural to feel great when you can dismiss someone who is well known for finishing games. His wicket in the final gave me a lot of joy.
Back in January, what was your target for 2017?
We had an Australia tour in January. I think I took 12 wickets in five ODIs. My plan is always to bowl aggressively but within my limits. I didn’t think that I have to get so many wickets this year. I just wanted to bowl in a way that helps the Pakistan team in every game. That would end up helping me too as a bowler.
So now how does it feel to be the highest wicket-taker in ODIs this year?
For any youngster, this is a big achievement. There are so many top bowlers in the list. I see the top ten list daily. There is Hazelwood, Trent Boult, Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mitchell Starc. They are such experienced bowlers, so I am thankful to Allah for giving me so much.
Imran Khan supported Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed, but there isn’t any senior figure like him now in the team.
I started off with world-class bowlers like Mohammad Amir, Umar Gul, Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan. It was a great honour for me. Wahab bhai and Amir bhai helped me a lot. They gave me a lot of confidence. They told me not to be worried. They would say: “This is cricket, we are also playing.” My first series was in England and Ireland, which was built up as a tough series in the media. I was a bit nervous. I made my debut in Ireland and then played at Lord’s, where I got one wicket. But my seniors supported me a lot.
The one person who really helps me is Shoaib Malik, who was also my state captain. Till date, he is guiding me. We are playing in the same team in the BPL. He usually fields at mid-on or mid-off when I am bowling. He knows so much about me that I feel good talking to him on the field.
What’s it like bowling with Amir?
Recently, someone as big as Virat Kohli said that he finds it hard to face him. It is nothing short of a dream to bowl with Amir bhai. He is a star bowler. He is back after a gap of five years, so I feel happy bowling with him.
How much of your experience from your early days has shaped you as a fast bowler today?
I started off bowling on a shorter pitch and then slowly I extended myself to bowling on 22 yards. I never wanted to be a bowler who people would call “what a bowler”. I just wanted to stay within a limit and develop myself.
Your Test debut came in the game that was the last one for Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. You must miss their presence in the team?
I certainly miss them. They are legends of Pakistan. I was hoping to make my debut in that series, because I wanted to play under Misbah bhai and Younis bhai. I was injured in the first two Tests, so in the last game I realised what they are like on the field. They are of a different class – their thinking, playing is all at a different level.
After a first year like the one you have had, you need to look after yourself since you’re also playing in T20 leagues.
I am a rhythm bowler, so it is best if I continue playing. I came to the BPL because there was a gap in the calendar. I can’t rest for more than five or ten days, not a month. I came to the BPL after speaking to the head coach.
You have to look after yourself as a professional cricketer who wants to compete at the highest level. Maybe you can become the No. 1 bowler in the world, but to stay on top is the real test. You have to take care of your training, diet and sleeping patterns.
What was your favourite spell or delivery this year?
I think the delivery I bowled to Wayne Parnell in the Champions Trophy is certainly up there. I see all my spells equally, as they help Pakistan. I think the Champions Trophy matches against South Africa, England and the final against India, I would rate them highly.
What would you tell 12- or 13-year-old kids who want to become the next Hasan Ali?
Work hard and think of your country, wherever you are from – Pakistan, India, Bangladesh or Australia. Become a professional and play some cricket, but to compete in the world, you have to represent your country as a professional.