Hassan Ali has returned to Pakistan’s ODI team after a year-long gap, getting a direct entry into the 2023 World Cup. Here’s how (and why) he made his way back into the team.

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“The Generator is back”.

The image of a highly-saturated and amply Photoshopped Hassan Ali, celebrating in his signature lively, sometimes neck-injuring pose, adorned his social media accounts after Pakistan’s 2023 World Cup squad announcement. Hassan probably has his own graphics guy, and a social media person who cheekily addresses Hassan as “generator”.

It’s probably the energy Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s chief selector referred to, when explaining Hassan’s inclusion.

For those not keeping a close tab on Pakistan cricket, it’s worth pointing out that Hassan last played an ODI for Pakistan back in June, and hasn’t played any T20Is since September. Yet, he found himself back in the Pakistan squad for the World Cup, and is all set to feature in his second ODI World Cup.

The biggest reason for Hassan’s re-entry is Naseem Shah: an integral part of Pakistan’s bowling attack, Naseem suffered a right shoulder injury during the recently concluded Asia Cup. Naseem’s injury is likely to keep him away from the game beyond the World Cup, forcing Pakistan to look elsewhere to fill the gap.

“Since Naseem is out, we needed a bowler who could bowl with a new ball and I think Hasan Ali is a very good choice in that regard”, Inzamam told reporters.

“If you have seen him in the Lanka Premier League and elsewhere, he has performed well. Yes, he has not played internationals in a while, but he’s played mega events for Pakistan in the past and performed well.

“He is a team man as well: whenever he is included, he brings energy to the team.”

Hassan’s recall isn’t just a direct swap with Naseem: the Pakistan pace attack’s injury list extends further. Mohammad Hasnain is currently recovering from an ankle injury, while Ihsanullah went through an elbow operation, limiting Pakistan’s choices.

At the 2023 LPL, Hassan’s recent-most assignment, he took eight wickets at 16.12, and an economy of 6.78. Before that, he was part of Warwickshire in Division One of the County Championship, picking 24 wickets at 21.58 in the six games he played.

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While these may be decent numbers – though nothing outlandish – Hassan’s comeback probably stems more from his overall effectiveness as opposed to his recent form. As Inzamam pointed out, Hassan can bowl with the “old ball as well as new”, which helps them fill in the missing link in Naseem’s absence. With Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Wasim already present, Hassan needs to fit the gap, not necessarily spearhead the attack.

What goes against him is the lack of recent ODI experience: since the last World Cup in 2019, Hassan has played just seven games, picking nine wickets at 42.44, with the economy of 6.86 the worst for any Pakistan bowler with at least five wickets in this period. Yet, Hassan’s issues have rarely been due to injury, which puts him as a solid squad option, especially with Shaheen returning from a long layoff, Haris surviving an injury scare himself, while Wasim recovered from a back injury only last year.

Perhaps the biggest advantage that Hassan provides is overall experience (albeit not recent): he was the leading wicket-taker in Pakistan’s 2017 Champions Trophy winning campaign, and and featured in the 2019 World Cup as well. He played in the 2021 T20 World Cup, and two editions of the Asia Cup (2018 and 2022). It’s the sort of experience Pakistan need going into a big tournament with high expectations, hosted by India, a country they have a long history with. Instead of option for a younger option in Zaman Khan or Shahnawaz Dahani, Pakistan preferred to bring back Hassan’s level of experience.

As a bonus, this Championship season saw Hassan’s batting turn for the better: it’s definitely not the deal-clincher, but you can never have enough batting firepower in your lower order.

It’s unlikely Hassan would have been anywhere close to the squad had all their quicks being fit. But then, comebacks can always be dramatically eventful in Pakistan cricket. Hassan and his fans would be hoping this one culminates with the Cup.