Haris Rauf's remarkable rise from tennis-ball cricket to maiden Pakistan T20I call-up

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Pakistan is a name synonymous with pace bowlers and Haris Rauf is the latest man to emerge from the subcontinent country’s conveyor belt. The Rawalpindi-born man currently stands on the verge of making his international debut after being called up to the Pakistan squad for the upcoming T20 series against Bangladesh.

The fast-bowling cupboard of Pakistan is currently overflowing with teenage pacers like Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah and even Muhammad Musa Khan in tow. While Afridi and Musa impressed at Pakistan U19 level before making their senior debuts, young Naseem Shah caught the eye with his performances in the Quaid-e-Azam first-class trophy.

All three youngsters have climbed through the conventional channels, unlike Rauf who has undertaken a wild ride to arrive on the brink of his maiden Pakistan appearance. His unorthodox rise from a ‘gully’ cricketer brought up on tennis-ball cricket to one who terrorised batsmen with his pace in the ongoing Big Bash League (BBL) is a remarkable one.

The Rawalpindi bowler only made his List A debut in April, last year while his maiden first-class appearance came only as recently as two months ago. Until just three years ago, Rauf’s name was completely unheard of in Pakistan’s domestic cricketing ecosystem. It was his chance participation in a Lahore Qalandars talent hunt program – Rising Stars – in Gujranwala in 2017 that Rauf got his big breakthrough.

With his raw ability to clock nearly 150kmph with the cricket ball, Rauf caught the eye of Qalandars coach and former Pakistan pacer Aaqib Javed. Since then, the bowler has put in the hard yards in training and more than earned his maiden Pakistan call-up through sheer grit and determination.

Rauf was the star of the opening weekend. of PSL 4. [Image: Twitter/@lahoreqalandars]

Rauf was the star of the opening weekend. of PSL 4. [Image: Twitter/@lahoreqalandars]

After a few impressive displays for Qalandars in the 2018 Abu Dhabi T20, Rauf want sent to play grade cricket in Australia by the Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise. His maiden PSL appearance followed in the 2019 edition, with the pacer subsequently claiming 11 wickets in 10 appearances for the Lahore franchise. More than the wicket’s column, it was Rauf’s searing pace which made headlines; the Qalandars man giving uncomfortable moments to several established batsmen.

From a diamond in the rough, Rauf was now starting to blossom into a more polished bowler with a promising future ahead of him.

“I never really planned my future in cricket. I grew up playing with a tennis ball until 2017, and never thought that I could play for Pakistan. But this dream was given to me by Lahore Qalandars and Aaqib Javed’s persistence with me gave me direction,” the pacer told ESPNcricinfo in an interview recently.

“He has been a driving force for me. I had a feeling that a pure fast bowler bowling over 140kph can’t be ignored in Pakistan.

“I have the pace, the passion, and with all the development I started to believe that I can play top-level cricket.”

His PSL displays last season earned him his maiden List A appearance for Balochistan while a first-class debut followed eight months later. Some indifferent displays in both formats failed to really propel Rauf into the limelight and the fast-bowler was in serious danger of fading into obscurity.

It is Rauf’s latest exploits in the BBL that have turned the head of Pakistan head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq. Rauf has arguably been the find of the season for Melbourne Stars with the Pakistan man claiming 16 wickets in just seven appearances in his maiden stint. Three of those came in the form of a hat-trick against Sydney Thunder in front of a roaring crown at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

Even a BBL contract wasn’t guaranteed for Rauf when he was flown down to Australia by Lahore Qalandars. He was initially meant to trial for Hobart Hurricanes, while also featuring for Glenorchy in the Tasmania Premier League.

Ultimately, Rauf was passed over by the Hurricanes who opted against handing him a BBL contract. However, his performances for Glenorchy were enough to impress the Stars after an unexpected injury to South Africa veteran Dale Steyn.

Signed as injury cover for the duration of only three matches, Rauf seized his chance in spectacular fashion and was soon retained for the entire season. That season has been cut short unfortunately for the Stars due to Rauf’s call-up for the Bangladesh T20 series.

The Pakistan bowler isn’t complaining and looks poised to make the next big leap of his meteoric rise. A hint of luck, plenty of perseverance and striking at the right time have defined Rauf’s extraordinary journey towards the green jersey of Pakistan.

His lack of professional coaching in his early formative years might mean that a Test or ODI call-up is still a long way off. Yet that raw spark has seen him turn into the perfect bowler for the T20 format. His penchant for bowling quick, while consistently attacking the stumps, worked like a treat during his BBL stint in Australia.

He might have bid goodbye to Melbourne for now but, should all go well for Rauf against Bangladesh, he could be returning to Australia a few months down the line for the T20I World Cup in October. That would really cap off a truly remarkable journey for a man who has confessed to being brought up on tennis-ball cricket.

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