Many in the Pakistan crowd at the National Stadium in Karachi had begun to leave after Liam Dawson walloped Mohammad Hasnain for 22 runs in the 18th over to reduce the equation to just 9 from two overs. Soon, it was 5 from 10 balls and even as they were shuffling out, Haris Rauf would bounce out Dawson to make them rethink. Soon, they were caught in the moment, yelling out his name as Harris filled the airwaves around the stadium. Did he notice them leaving?

“To be honest, I didn’t. My focus was on the game,” he would say with a lovely smile. “Maine nahi dekha kaun gaya and Kaun nahi gaya!”

Another question popped up about how Rauf had emerged from “nowhere” to make it big in the Pakistan team. He would mention about hard work and willingness to learn but it’s indeed been a story of rise from ghumnaami to shohrat, as he has once said, from anonymity to fame.

Haris Rauf had pace and aggression when he was young. Now he has the pace, controlled aggression, and a lot of nuanced thinking as Pakistan’s leading pacer in the absence of Shaheen Afridi.

It was the pace that first edged him over cricketing trials at Lahore Qalandars five years ago when he followed up another contender’s 86 mph delivery with a ball that was one a mile faster to catch the coach’s attention. The nod came when he bowled the next ball at 91mph. The first coach called up the senior Aquib Javed to have a look; Rauf hit 92.3 mph and got the nod.

It was aggression that pushed him into controversies – he would do a slit-throat celebration as recently as 2020 in BBL and Qalandars’ coach Aquib Javed, who has worked a lot polishing his bowling and cricketing smartness, had to deliver some home truths. This year we have seen Rauf, who would seek out autographs from Virat Kohli off the field, and of course fire bouncers on the field.

But it’s the cricketing smartness that has stood out. Like on Sunday night when Liam Dawson had plundered 24 runs in the 18th over against Mohammad Hasnain to stunningly turn around the match. Just 9 runs were needed when Rauf began the 19th over, and soon it was just 5 from 10 balls when Rauf began to run in to bowl at Dawson.

A rewind here to the previous Hasnain over. Even when Dawson was slaying a slew of the full balls from Hasnain all over the park, Rauf had his plan firmed up in the mind.

“Mein plan kar raha tha. Thoda idea tha kahan ball kiya jaaye (I got the idea where to bowl at him). To get his wicket was the turning point, I had the confidence,” Rauf would say at the end of the game.

 

The plan was to bowl a fiery bouncer. He attempted one off the second ball but it didn’t climb as much and was pulled by Dawson to the midwicket boundary. Not that well-timed though and that further spurred on Rauf whose next ball was a cracker with more spice and Dawson fell, tamely miscuing the pull to midwicket.

“ I knew if I bowl my best ball to tailender I will get his wicket.” And so, the next ball was full and fast that splayed the stumps of Olly Stone. He nearly ended the game next ball with a searing yorker which was just about stabbed out. It would end with a run out in the last over, when Shan Masood swooped in from midwicket to run out Reece Topley at the non-striker’s end.

Rauf, who grew up on tape-ball cricket, credits Aquib Javed with a lot of his improvement with the leather ball. “I would say I was a zero with hard ball when I came under Aquib bhai,” he says in a YouTube chat with former Pakistan captain Salman Butt. “It was Aquib bhai who taught me to focus on my strengths first.” Rather than splinter the focus on variations, Aquib got him to get his yorkers and bouncers dead on. “He would keep saying every ball you have to bowl a yorker in PSL. I have worked really hard.” Once he got control, then he let his creative brain wander to pick up other skills like slower one, which he used liberally to impress in BBL 2020.

He also would run into Glenn Maxwell there in Australia, his captain, who immediately sensed how vital Rauf can be. “He used me well in the death overs, gave me confidence, even gave me the last over in my first match; he trusted me. That he believed that I can do it was a big deal.”

He even talks about how it was Maxwell who would set the field for him. “I just had to bowl, he knew which areas to set the field according to my bowling. He was very helpful. I enjoyed the BBL a lot.”

Now it’s Australia where he would return with Pakistan for the T20 World Cup with an enhanced reputation as a canny pacer who can bowl everything and knows how to handle pressure better than most.