Ali Raza: From bowling with torn shoes in Sheikhupura to almost taking Pakistan to the U-19 World Cup final

Three years ago, Pakistan Under-19 assistant batting coach Muhammad Masroor saw a 12-year-old with tattered shoes toiling in the nets at the Rana Naved-ul-Hassan Cricket Academy in Sheikhupura. That boy was Ali Raza, who almost took Pakistan to the final of the Under-19 World Cup on Thursday.

“Raza is a future possibility,” Masroor said. Indian Express On the eve of the semi-finals. “He is a resident of Nankana Sahib, Sheikhpura. He has played most of his cricket in the village. He hates going to the gym. He likes bowling in the nets; You really have to pull it out. That part of Pakistan has always produced good fast bowlers like Mohammad Asif, Aaqib Javed and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. “All three were experts in their craft,” Masroor said.

It was Masroor who recognized Raza's potential and selected the youngster for the home series against Bangladesh in November 2022.

“We were playing a three-day game at the Rana Naved Cricket Academy. In the morning I saw a young boy sweeping the net with a broom and bowling continuously for two hours. During lunch, he rested for an hour and started bowling again. He is a long race horse. He knows how to bowl long spells which you don't see in current fast bowlers. He is not a T20 bowler,” Masroor had said.

All the qualities that Masroor talked about were visible in the semi-final match. The 15-year-old, who was bowling due to cramps, faltered after bowling his last over, but finished with 4 for 34 after one of the finest spells of the tournament. But it was not enough as there was a partnership between Rafe McMillan for the last wicket. 19 not out) and Callum Vidler (2 not out) took Australia home and set up for the final against India.

Ian Bishop commented, “I will remember this spell from this young man for a long time.” “He's a superstar!”

Chasing 180, Australia were in control with their openers using an early attack from Ubaid Shah. Raza gave Pakistan its first success by clean bowling Sam Constas. Harry Dixon (50) and Oliver Peak (49) made a 43-run partnership for the fifth wicket, three overs before Australia were reduced to 59 runs in 16.3 overs. But left-arm spinner Arafat Minhas (2/20) turned the tables again by dismissing both set batsmen with a quick arm-ball.

U19 WC Pakistan's Ali Raza celebrates the wicket of Australia's Mahali Beardman during the semi-final match at Willowmoor Park, Benoni (ICC Media Zone)

Raja almost won the match in his second spell with figures of 4-0-9-3. “That's real gold from Ali Raza,” Bishop shouted in his iconic style after Raza dismissed Australia's No. 10 Mahali Beardman.

Ubaid Shah and Mohammad Zeeshan failed to repeat the performance they had shown against Bangladesh and Australia's last wicket partnership collapsed in the final.

Despite the loss, in Raza, Pakistan has discovered a gem who Bishop believes, if nurtured carefully, could become an all-time great for the country. “He's very small but from what I can see I can tell you this kid is fast. He will have to be nurtured for the next three years. He should get the best strength conditioning coach in the world. He's a finished product that just needs a little tweaking. If they (Pakistan) do that, they have a real talent on their hands,” Bishop said.

Masroor, who has watched the boy closely with the Pakistan Under-19 team as well as Rawalpindi Raiders in the Pakistan Junior League (PJL), believes it is Raza who will play for Pakistan before Ubaid and Zeeshan .

“Ubaid and Jisahan may get injured in action. If he bowls under pressure in PSL or any match, he will kneel down. But Raza no, this boy has a very big heart. Ubaid and Zeeshan will break down when they play first-class cricket. Nowadays training in Pakistan is completely gym-oriented. He is not bowling many overs in the nets. Raza can bowl long spells. Masroor said, all three are good talents but after the Under-19 World Cup, work ethic matters most.

Raza developed a passion for the game while playing in school cricket tournaments.

“To participate in any local tournaments, I will personally finance my trips to neighboring areas and attempt to play. However, the participating teams did not give me a chance but I remained dedicated and kept waiting for my chance. On one occasion, he gave me a few overs and I impressed him with my skills. After that, I earned the respect of my peers and often won tournaments with my local team,” Ali had said on PCB's YouTube channel ahead of the tournament. “Masroor Bhai has supported me a lot. He sat with me to analyze my bowling and expand my arsenal with variations. Additionally, he also consistently monitored my performance in the Pakistan Junior League.”

At 15, Raza has the world at his feet as Bishop said he can still play in two Under-19 World Cups. But she needs care, which Masroor thinks will be a challenge.

“Sadly, we don't have that system for fast bowlers. We do not have proper rehabilitation system. We do not have good bowling coaches. Biomechanics labs are also not functioning. Raza is indeed a future superstar, but we all have to take care of him like our own children.”

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