Free Hits can be costly

Nirvaan Nadeem on real-life cricket and acting in serial Free Hit - right before the 2011 World Cup semifinal at Mohali

Free Hits can be costly
I have always been proud of my fast bowling, having once touched the 70-mph mark. I loved bowling bouncers – every ball short pitched, hard or soft ball, leaving it to my fellow bowlers to take wickets. I loved terrorising the batsmen, challenging them, taunting them, lifting my team’s morale with each ball that I bowled.

I was always crazy about cricket. No matter how many boundaries were hit over my bowling, no matter how good the batsman or how long he batted, I always ‘bounced’ back. Here, I would utilise my ego to the fullest extent, since all truly great fast bowlers have huge ones (IK included).

From playing street cricket, I moved on to hardball, playing at Model Town Cricket Club, one of the finest clubs we have. In the burning heat of July, I would perspire profusely, panting for breath. All day I would stand with my teammates, pushing ground rollers, running entire lengths of the ground, doing fielding drills. But the one over I would get to bowl at the end, to some of the best rival batsmen, would make it all well worth it.


It is World Cup 2011, previously scheduled to be held in Pakistan, and now taking place across the border. A month before the event, I am approached by a production house. I am to play, if I choose to accept, the lead role in a cricket serial. The challenge? It has to be aired before the World Cup, meaning all 13 episodes have to be recorded in less than a month.

Directed by the Usman-Zulfiqar duo, initially, people in the production house were hesitant. I was nice to everybody, smiling all the time, a happy-go-lucky kid. Where was the fire necessary for this role? But little did they know that I show my fire only in the middle of the ground!

The script was quite interesting. I was to play the character of an inner-city young man with an unquenchable passion for the game and glory. After many trials and tribulations, he finally achieves his goal: he is selected in the national team, becoming a star overnight. But not without paying a price. The fame and fortune goes to his head and his family and friends become a liability. He becomes arrogant and conceited. He starts gambling. He even loses his sense of dignity and morality. Egged on by his brother-in-law, he is caught up in the world of gambling to an extent that he is told to make his country lose the World Cup final by spot fixing. When he resists, his brother-in-law threatens that his sister will be divorced if he doesn’t do what he is asked to do. Cut to the final ball of the match. One ball to go and one run to be made. If he takes a wicket, Pakistan wins but his sister gets divorced. If he doesn’t, Pakistan loses. At that crucial moment, the words of his coach (ably played by the veteran Ghulam Mohyyeddin, now not with us) echoes in his head, “This is no ordinary ball. It’s the whole world in your hand. The noise of the spectators should not unnerve you, it is the energy which should lift your spirit, each one of them is praying for you.” He looks at the crowd, absorbs their energy, and with fire in his eyes does what he does best: blasts away the wicket. The rest, as they say, is history.
I would utilise my ego to the fullest extent, since all truly great fast bowlers have huge ones (IK included)

I felt if I was made for the role – my passion for cricket, my desire to be in the limelight and my (controlled) aggression to demolish the adversary on the pitch. No wonder I enjoyed every moment of the arduous shooting schedule and did not mind the retakes. The camera crew had learned to fend for themselves.

It was one of the most hectic serials that I’ve shot. Sometimes an episode had to be aired the very next day, and the data would hurriedly be sent to the editing table on the very night the shoot was completed. In some cases an assembly line was set up: as soon as the ‘okay’ shot was recorded, it was sent by a motorbike to the editing suite. The next morning I would be seeing the episode on TV. There was even a scene, with me saluting Imran Khan, my inspiration for the character – there was an uncanny resemblance between my TV character with the larger-than-life real cricket hero.


I remember, once I was passing through the Fortress Army check-post at night in Lahore. As I passed through, the soldier asked for my I.D. He became surprised for a few seconds, and asked me if I was who he thought I was.

“Free Hit?” he asked. Overjoyed at having been recognised, I pleasantly asked if he liked the serial. To my astonishment, he replied, “The drama is very good, but you were not good.” A bit taken aback, I asked him to elaborate.

“Is this how one behaves with one’s parents?” he admonished in a fatherly manner. But he let me go without checking my ID.

There was another amusing incident, involving myself and the legendary Shafqat Cheema – playing the role of a happy-go-lucky elder who supports me in realising my cricketing dreams and the romantic ones, i.e. my dreams as well as my love-life. We were shooting a night scene in the Mozang locality of Lahore. He was to distribute sweets to local kids for my selection in the national team. As soon as the director shouted “action”, a group of (uninvited kids) pounced on Cheema and ran away with all the sweets, leaving him literally floored. I had heard about PTV teams using plastic sweets or spraying the eatables. Now I knew why they would do such an unkind thing.

During one of the scenes to be shot in the ground, cameras were set up, cricketers took time off from their practice and took up their positions. The best batsman came and took guard. Before bowling, I asked him to wear a helmet. He laughed and refused. I asked him again, this time out of sheer worry. He again shrugged it off. How could an actor be any threat to a proper batsman? With the cameras rolling, I came in from my long run-up, pounding the ground with each step I took, till I starting flying like a bird. I jumped at the run-up, came back down hard and let the ball go with every ounce of strength I had. It bounced sharply from the middle of the pitch, and within a millisecond there was a huge ‘thud’ that could be heard from far away. It hit him hard on his elbow, just inches from his head, and he fell down backwards. He wore a helmet after that.

An interesting and heartfelt experience, even now people ask me about the serial. Pakistan reached the semi-final stage, played in Mohali in the famous India-Pakistan match, which I actually witnessed. The game was in our grasp and then suddenly it slipped away from our hands. I just wondered if the Mohali semi-final was a replay of the TV serial Free Hit.

May be it was – but with an unhappy ending.