KARACHI: Running and bowling at a raw pace was never a problem for Haris Rauf. After all, he had done it all his life with the ribbon ball and replicated the skill in the trials of the HBL Pakistan Super League franchise Lahore Qalandars.
But after proving his worth as a product of Qalandars at the club level in Australia, the Big Bash League, and PSL and making his debut in Pakistan, he finally began struggling with his bowling economy.
Until October 2021, the right-hander was leaking races to nearly nine above at Twenty20 Internationals, but in the year and a half that followed, he reduced his economy rate to less than eight.
The 2021 T20 World Cup was also the first time Pakistan looked like a tight-knit unit under their captain Babar Azam, who led the team to the T20 Asia Cup and T20 World Cup finals the following year, with Haris being one of the central figures in their journey to become one of the best white ball teams in the world.
For Haris, the main man behind his emergence as Pakistan’s premier death bowler in the shortest formats is none other than Babar.
“I strongly believe that the improvement in my performance is all because of Babar Azam,” Haris told Dawn. “We played really good and exciting cricket in the last two years.
“In this period, we emerged as a good unit, especially in white-ball cricket, and the credit goes to our skipper Babar Azam, who trusted the abilities of players, which ultimately gave us confidence.”
While Babar enjoys Haris’ respect as the leader of the group, the pacer has got a special place in his heart for fellow quick and Pakistan’s pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi
His pairing with Shaheen has symbolized Lahore Qalandars’ identity, with both bowlers staying associated with the franchise since the start of their PSL careers.
Even in the Pakistan shirt, Shaheen’s support has motivated Haris to do better.
“Shaheen Shah Afridi is a great support from the other end, he said. “We have a very strong bond, and it helps me to keep enhancing my bowling skills. “
In Shaheen’s absence, Haris said, he had to take the responsibility of leading the Pakistan attack. The extra bit of pressure was a challenge Haris ensured only helped him to improve.
In the Asia Cup, Haris bagged eight victims at 19.12 and was the fifth-highest wicket-taker in the tournament. In the home T20 series against England, he took as many wickets and topped the bowling charts.
“Shaheen wasn’t part of that series, so I was leading the bowling unit,” Haris noted about the England T20s. “So I was extra responsible and managing my bowlers accordingly.”
“It wasn’t easy to lead the bowling unit without him, but I was lucky enough that I took the advantage and learned this job from Shaheen.”
Haris and Shaheen were reunited before Pakistan kicked off their T20 World Cup campaign in Australia last year. The national side’s start in the showpiece was horrific as they lost against India and Zimbabwe in their first two matches.
Pakistan, however, rallied to win the remaining group stage matches to eventually reach the semi-finals, in which they beat New Zealand before losing to England in the final.
“That bad start was the beginning of our good finish,” Haris said of Pakistan’s T20 World Cup campaign. “The defeat against Zimbabwe was a real wake-up call, and then everyone stood up to act.”
Pakistan could also have started with a win had it not been for the incredible spectacle of Virat Kohli, who helped India recover from a rough start in their chase to win the match.
Kohli’s two sixes in the death overs against Haris proved crucial in turning India’s tide as the pacer saw the ball fly past the limit at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.
“Well, the plan was simple; to fool him with variation, but he played it well,” Haris said of his confrontation with Kohli. “And I’m saying this since the night that only a player like Kohli could hold back his nerves and play that shot.”
Kohli’s entries were an example of the unforgivable nature of international cricket, which Haris believed a player needed to embrace to ensure improvement.
“You learn every day, and I think when you get the experience, the responsibilities come to you, and there’s no chance of making any mistakes in competitive cricket,” he said. “So to cope with these situations, you have to stay in challenging situations, and that’s the only way you can improve.”