Haris Rauf’s journey as a promising talent started when he was picked up by Lahore Qalandars during trials for their Player Development Program in 2017. Since then, Rauf has played in two editions of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and was a star performer for Melbourne Stars in BBL 09 with 20 wickets to his name.
Rauf opens on his fantastic BBL 09 season, the advice received from Dale Steyn, his debt of gratitude for Lahore Qalandars, why he is impressed with Shaheen Shah Afridi’s progress as he looks forward to bowling against the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma at the ICC T20 World Cup.
What was the reason for your excellent performance in BBL 09?
I feel that coach David Hussey and captain Glenn Maxwell’s confidence in my abilities was the key factor in my excellent performances in the BBL where I took 20 wickets in the tournament. Maxwell had extraordinary confidence in my ability to bowl and used me where I was of most use to the team. He went out of his way to support me whilst we were on the field and for my part, I repaid him by bowling to the plan and to the fields he set for me.
What advice did Dale Steyn give to you during BBL?
Dale Steyn has been my role model ever since I started to play cricket and to be in the same team as him at the BBL was absolutely thrilling. To be told that I was replacing him as he had to return for international duties was shocking as I could never have imagined that I would be good enough to take the place of my role-model. I was very happy to meet him, and I can tell you that he is a wonderful teacher. He gave me tips in the nets and gave me a lot of advice about how to go about my game and what attitude to adopt. In particular, he told me about the aggression that I need to have as a fast-bowler and since then I have tried to adopt that attitude for myself. He also gave me advice about fitness and on the outswinger which I am now working on. He is a great teacher and he still remains my adviser today as I keep on talking to him to ask him for his help as and when I need it.
How do you feel PSL 5 went for you and Lahore Qalandars?
My form in BBL 09 was very encouraging so I wanted to bring in that confidence into PSL 5 and the hope was that I would be able to repeat my efforts in the BBL in PSL as well. It was my dream to help my side win the PSL and to be fair, we had a good momentum going towards the time when the tournament was postponed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. It appeared that we were well on our way towards a berth in the final and once we had reached that stage, we could have been in a position to win the title, but I suppose we will now need to wait for the tournament to resume to prove that to the world.
How impressed are you with the PSL’s status now as a premier T20 tournament?
I feel that the way the tournament attracted packed houses in virtually every game, and the quality of cricket that was witnessed should leave little doubt in anyone’s mind that PSL is indeed a top class T20 tournament. The atmosphere in the stadiums was simply brilliant and we all enjoyed playing in front of our home crowd. What the crowds mean for this tournament became apparent when we had to play some games behind closed doors. It then felt like we were playing in a club game and to me as a player, that was not an enjoyable experience at all.
You bowled at a good pace in BBL 09, but do you feel that with some more work, you can increase your pace further?
The BBL 09 was a special experience for me as I had already been to Sydney before as part of the Lahore Qalandars’ Player Development Program so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, and how to bowl on those pitches. I knew that the players there were good at playing cut and pull shots, so I bowled wicket to wicket and that was a major reason for my success there. Obviously, speed plays a huge role in every fast-bowlers armoury and our coach Aaqib Javed has worked very hard on that aspect with me. To me, the number that counts for any fast-bowler is the average pace that one can bowl at, and currently my average ranges between 143-146KpH. However, since I have a few months at my disposal due to no cricket being played, I intend to work hard and improve my average pace and aim to regularly hit speeds of around 155 KpH in the future.
Do you feel that you have the ability to become a fast-bowler in the mould of Shoaib Akhtar?
We all know what a great bowler Shoaib Akhtar was and the fact that he worked so hard to generate the pace he could during his playing days. Anyone aspiring to become a bowler like him will need to do the same so I am glad that at the moment, we have a few bowlers who can hit the 140Kph+ mark such as Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Musa Khan, Mohammad Hasnain and myself. With more hard work, all of us can improve further and aspire to serve Pakistan in the same way as Shoaib Akhtar did in the past.
Which batsmen have been the most difficult to bowl to?
As far as the Big Bash is concerned, I was in very good form and felt that not many batsmen could get the better of me but my real challenge came in the PSL, mainly due to the fact that I was injured for most of the tournament. I was lacking in pace and my performance was also affected by the heel injury which didn’t let me operate at my best. It was more about self-preservation during PSL but the one batsman who was the toughest to bowl to was Babar Azam as he managed my bowling really well.
Tell us about the injury that prevented you from playing all games in this year’s PSL.
The injury to my right heel occurred during the first game and the doctors were in favour of a six-week break for me at that point. However, I played in the next game as well and the injury troubled me again. The medical advice then was stricter at that time and the doctors told me to stop playing or risk a stress fracture. I stopped playing from that point and missed the next few games. I felt a bit better after the rest and the team did need my services and the management asked me if I felt fine to play so I played three more games. However, it was clear that I was struggling due to this injury and so my performance was affected. The good news now is that due to the break in cricket, I have had time to recover and do rehabilitation work to be completely fit whenever cricket resumes again.
Do you feel that the T20 format is one that causes more injuries to bowlers than say other formats of the game?
In the T20 format for a bowler, there is definitely a need to put in 100% effort and energy in a very short period of time and so it’s logical that the chances of sustaining an injury are higher than in other formats of the game. Having said that, it’s also true that fast-bowlers are always prone to injuries due to the nature of the job and so injuries can happen at any time during a series or a tournament, and in any format of the game.
Do you think you have a good chance of making it to Pakistan’s T20 World Cup squad?
Even at the time that I was playing in the BBL, my mind was focussed on performing well to try and get a spot in Pakistan’s T20 World Cup squad. Given that the World Cup will be held in Australia, my aim was to perform well in the BBL in the same country to show everyone that I understood the conditions well, and I am pleased that I was able to make a mark in that tournament. This also resulted in my making a debut for Pakistan against Bangladesh and, God Willing, could help me gain a place in the World Cup squad as well.
How inspiring do you think your career progression is for young cricketers in Pakistan?
My progress towards top-class cricket was an unusual one. I never played hard-ball or club cricket until, thanks to the supreme effort by Lahore Qalandars, I was picked by them in their Player Development Program trials in 2017. I for one will always be grateful to Lahore Qalandars for putting their trust in my abilities and giving me a chance to prove myself. I hope that my story will inspire many youngsters to follow their dreams and to never give up on your hopes and ambitions, It will also show them that there is a pathway for them to play for Pakistan as long as they have the right skills, talent and a willingness to work hard to achieve their dreams.
How impressed have you been with the progress of Shaheen Shah Afridi?
Shaheen Shah Afridi and I have been bowling in partnership for almost two years at the PSL and we have a great combination, where we complement each other really well. I have to say that I am yet to see in any form of cricket, the kinds of spells that Shaheen bowled during PSL 5. His never-say-die attitude is one that I have not seen in many others and you can judge that by the fact that he played for Lahore Qalandars and gave his all whilst carrying a painful thumb injury. To me, he is a fighter to the core, and when he steps on to the field, he is willing to give his 100% effort for his team and inspire his fellow teammates to do the same. Whilst I may be older in age, Shaheen is a senior to me as he has played more international games than I have. He is always willing to share his experience with me on the field and even in the outfield.
Do you feel that you are unfairly labelled as a T20 specialist?
It’s totally unfair to think of my skills as only suited for T20 games. The fact is that like any other player, I started off my cricket with one format but that does not mean that I am only focussed on this format. As far as I am concerned, I will play for Pakistan in any format where my services are needed. Yes, I have started off my international career with the T20 format but given the chance, I will prove my mettle in all other formats too, especially in Test cricket.
What batsman would you consider as your main challenge at the ICC World T20 Cup?
This being a World Cup competition, the quality of opposition will be very tough as top players from each country will be playing in it so all batsmen will be difficult to bowl to. But looking at the top T20I players in the world, to be the greatest challenge will come from the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. To do well against such top-quality batsmen will do wonders for my confidence and to be honest, based on my experience in BBL, I should be able to do well in the World Cup if given the chance. It is my nature that I don’t let any batsman dominate me and that is how I did so well in BBL 09 even against such quality batsmen like Steve Smith, as I didn’t allow him to put any pressure on me at all.
Does the prospect of participating in a Pakistan versus India clash in the ICC T20 World Cup excite you?
It’s a given that any Pakistan versus India game comes with its own special pressure and tension. The pressure is equally high on both sides with supporters of each side wanting to win at all costs. For me, any game such as the one between Pakistan and India which has more pressure in it brings out the best in me. I say this based on past experience, where I have performed well when faced with extra pressure, and this match, if I get the chance to play in it, will be no exception for me.
How are you keeping yourself busy during these days when no cricket is possible due to the Coronavirus Pandemic?
This is a very tough time for all and my prayers are for everyone’s safety. For us sportsmen, who are used to staying outdoors, this is a difficult time as we need to stay fit and in shape by mostly staying indoors. We are managing by doing exercises at home and some outdoor activities such as cycling so that we are ready as much as we can be when cricket starts again.