Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Miles-a-minute: The Haris Rauf second act. Haris Rauf is no Dale Steyn yet, but in him, Pakistan have a game-changer in the T20 WC 2021
Haris Rauf is no Dale Steyn yet, but in him, Pakistan have a game-changer in the T20 WC 2021
“Close your eyes on top of your bowling mark and imagine you are bowling. What do you see?” Aaquib Javed asked Haris Rauf.
“Yorkers,” came the reply.
“Phira tuhanu yorker karana ki musakala hain?” (“What's then stopping you from bowling yorkers?”) This was Aaquib switching to Punjabi to admonish his pupil, whom he has nurtured since the very beginning at Lahore Qalandars.
You could see why Aaquib was angry. Though Haris had been picked for the T20 WC, his confidence levels going into the tournament weren't the greatest. He had lost his place in the national side, and worse his captain's confidence, after two expensive outings against England back in July. Bowling figures of 1-44 and 2-48 in the first couple of T20Is saw him dropped from the third and final T20I in Manchester. When the team headed to the Caribbean next, Harif warmed the bench; and when he didn't, it was raining.
These weren't the ideal circumstances for Haris to go into his first ever World Cup. Which is why Aaquib, a coach, mentor and a father figure from his PSL franchise, agreed to spend some time with him at the High Performance Center in Lahore. That was where the opening conversation took place.
Few weeks on, Haris has been one of Pakistan's many success stories at this T20 WC. For a career economy rate of 8.5, he has gone on to concede runs at only 6.8 in this tournament despite bowling exactly half his overs at the death (16-20 overs). So what changed between those difficult days in England and these very successful ones in the UAE?
Haris Rauf's T20I stats for overs 1-15
Haris Rauf's T20I stats for overs 16-20
Perhaps the fact that he's finally bowling like himself. Rauf's wrist now stays behind the ball for the yorkers, his strength and for what he was known for in the T20 franchise circuit including at the PSL and the BBL. In Aaquib's assessment, Haris was trying to bowl outswing at pace like his favourite bowler Dale Steyn and that meant that the wrist was no longer aligned to bowl fast, straight yorkers.
“Tum chapad gaye ho Dale Steyn banne ke chakkar mein,” Aaquib had told him, referring to how he's lost his strengths in trying to bowl like Dale Steyn. “You have to do what you know for now. You have to go to the World Cup and aim for two things: the toes and the head. You can try becoming Dale Steyn when the time comes, but it is not now.”
There's more to the Steyn story than just Haris trying to be him. Steyn was the player Haris ended up replacing at Melbourne Stars, his first bonafide breakthrough outside of PSL which really made the world sit up and watch. But this opportunity came after a difficult time for Haris. It wasn't quite a case for happily ever after, after he was serendipitously picked up by Lahore Qalandars one fine morning in Gujranwala.
How Haris was identified is a well documented story. Accompanying a friend to the trials of a player development program, Haris, then a mobile phone seller in Rawalpindi, surprised himself and those around by clocking speeds up to 92.3 mph. It was the first time he was bowling with a hard ball. With a knack for fast bowling, Haris shone through in the training program and was one of the 15 people who were sent to Australia as part of an exchange program with Sydney Thunder and Sydney Sixers.
“I got Kyle Mills, our bowling coach then, and Grant Elliott to come down from New Zealand to Australia to take a look at Haris, Irfan Jnr and a couple of other boys,” Sameen Rana, the co-owner and COO of Lahore Qalandars, tells Cricbuzz.
“We were thinking of getting one of the bowlers in our team that season. Elliott tells me a funny story. He gave Haris the hard season ball and asked him how it felt different to the tennis bowl he's been bowling all his life with. This ball is just heavy, Haris replied innocently, and Elliott still remembers that and has a good laugh about it.”
While the first season for Haris was cut short by an injury, a PSL debut came sooner rather than later for him. All he had to do was get fitter and increase his weight from 73 to 83 kg by eating “12 egg whites a day,” and all Qalandars needed to do was convince the PCB to allow them an Emerging Player pick from outside the national pathway channels.
Good performances followed in the PSL and the National T20 Cup but an international call-up just wasn't coming for Haris. That's when Sameen Rana, the Lahore Qalandars co-owner who also served as the team manager at the time, took upon himself to help Haris find opportunities outside of PSL. Clearly more needed to be done for the world to take note of this fast bowler who was spending his best years on practice pitches.
“We were disappointed but, then again, we couldn't do much. So I told Haris that even though I'm a franchise owner, I will also be your manager. I don't want you to go to those managers who are going to sell their services for $1,000 fees,” Sameen says. There was only so much financial muscle that Haris could flex despite a 10-year PSL development contract with Qalandars, especially given that he hailed from a very modest background. His father worked as a welder and a part-time driver.
But while awaiting a national call-up, finding opportunities outside of PSL was proving to be a challenge for Haris. His lack of experience with the season ball and his unfamiliarity with cricket setups was proving to be a massive roadblock.
“I was under a lot of pressure because I felt that because of me being his manager, he's not able to get an opportunity. It became a bit of a challenge for me. I promised him but how do I put him in other leagues now?,” Sameen reminisces. “I knew people at CPL but (Dwayne) Bravo picked Mohammad Hasnain instead.
“After that, I sent a hopeful message to AB de Villiers. I remembered he was the one who had given Haris his breakthrough in PSL. We needed a death overs bowler and me and Aaquib bhai were really pushing for Haris but Mohammad Hafeez was the captain and he preferred Rahat Ali and Carlos Brathwaite. In Haris's second game, Hafeez got injured during the match and AB de Villiers stood in as captain. This is where, I think, Haris was born. We were defending around 137 against archrivals Karachi Kings and Haris won us that game single-handedly. So I reminded AB about this but he too couldn't pick him. I even approached Brendan McCullum and Eoin Morgan for European leagues but Haris just couldn't get a break.”
That's when Sameen found a way forward through one of his good friends Nicholas Cummins, who happened to be the CEO of Hobart Hurricanes at the time. Haris was packed up and sent to Australia and luckily, found himself playing in a practice game for the Hurricanes. He picked four wickets against a lineup featuring D'Arcy Short and Martin Guptill, and earned some positive feedback but it all added up to nothing in the immediate future.
And in some more bad luck for Haris, Nicholas who had gotten him that opportunity with Hurricanes, moved on to Melbourne Stars, and Haris stood stranded Down Under.
“It was a bit of a disappointment for me and obviously Haris who had gone to Australia for trials but now he was sitting in his room and nothing was happening,” Sameen remembers.
“You know, luck sometimes has its strange way. One day I got a call from Nick. He told me there is an opportunity at Stars because Dale Steyn, who was playing in the Mzansi Super League, had got his flight delayed. So there was a place for one fast bowler and he said Haris might be a good fit, but there the opportunity will only be for one game. The flip side was that Hobart might have given him a full year contract but it was still in the works. Right then, it was important to give Haris that one fair opportunity and we dived in.”
Haris started his BBL stint with a first-ball wicket, got another game on the back of that and finished with a five-wicket haul. Nobody could hold back that elusive national call-up now.
This T20 WC marks new beginnings for Haris Rauf in the national team. The last time he was here, it all unravelled quickly as he set sight on becoming more useful than he could afford. He ended up bowling with the new ball and cocking his wrist for outswing, but it came at the cost of his yorkers and death bowling skills.
So that's what Haris practiced during those 10 fateful days with Aaquib before jetting off for Dubai. He bowled with the old ball, he practiced his yorkers and he hit the stumps at the other end. And now that he's gone back to his strengths, it's made a world of a difference.
“When I spoke to Haris just before the India-Pakistan game, he told me, ‘Sameen, now you will see me back. And I assure you, I promise you that you will see the same Haris that you saw two years ago',” Sameen reveals. “That is why when he got the man of the match in the next game against New Zealand, it was a very emotional moment for all of us. That he took time in the closing interview to thank Lahore Qalandars showed his character.
“Lahore Qalandars has never won PSL but Harris is our trophy. This required a lot of effort, money, resources and hard work on top of belief. And there is no return for us to be very honest, apart from our emotional satisfaction. I don't make any financial gains out of this. We have served our cricket team, our country, but at the end of the day, as a businessman, there is nothing here. I do hope that other franchisees or other companies in Pakistan and in other countries take it in that spirit. Because there is no better feeling than providing a deserving person an opportunity to achieve his dreams.”
For now, Haris must be dreaming of bigger things with his eyes closed. A World Cup winner's medal wouldn't quite guarantee a happily-ever-after but it would be a sweet way to celebrate this second act from Haris Rauf.