In 2018, about to turn 25, he hadn’t yet played a game of professional cricket, plying his trade as a tape-ball bowler. In 2023, he is one of the world’s best white-ball pacers, known as a bowler with high pace, a remarkable skill set, and great character. Haris Rauf has come a long way in a short period and is now one of Pakistan’s primary hopes of getting their hands on much-desired silverware.
Haris Rauf’s incredible journey is known to all. Just over six years ago in 2017, a wiry tape-ball bowler came to the Lahore Qalandars trials, clocked 92 MPH, and the rest is history. In late 2018, he made his professional cricket debut, playing for Lahore Qalandars in the Abu Dhabi T20 tournament (which they won). In 2019, he played PSL, then domestic cricket, then BBL. In 2020, he debuted for Pakistan in T20Is and ODIs.
The fast-bowler’s journey in ODI cricket hasn’t been a lengthy one, thanks to Pakistan’s light ODI schedule between the two World Cups. Two ODIs against Zimbabwe in 2020 commenced his career in the format, while he showed his wicket-taking prowess as a change bowler in the 2021 series against South Africa and England. 2022 is really where he began to demonstrate his all-phase versatility, however.
In the 2022 Australia series, Haris would open the bowling in a couple of games and impress. In the last ODI, he struck twice with the new ball, removing Finch and Labuschagne to give Pakistan the upper hand. In the West Indies series that followed, he picked up a 4-wicket-haul, while he impressed against the Netherlands, now again opening the bowling in Shaheen’s absence.
The T20 season followed, and Haris Rauf was magnificent in the Asia Cup. He would follow this up with an excellent T20 World Cup, including a stellar spell in the final. However, he suffered an injury toward the end of the year, and when he returned to the ODI fold at the start of 2023, he clearly wasn’t at an optimum fitness level, enduring his poorest ODI series yet against New Zealand.
Since then, though, the speedster has gone on a spectacular run in the lead-up to the 2023 World Cup. In the second ODI series of the year against the Black Caps, he picked up 9 wickets in 4 games as Pakistan comprehensively won the series. The first ODI against Afghanistan saw him clinch his first Player of the Match award in ODIs, while he followed that up with another POTM award against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. This stretch of 10 ODIs has seen him pick up 23 wickets in 10 games at an average of under 18.
Haris Rauf was originally designated to be Pakistan’s first-change bowler at the 2023 World Cup, a role that he has regularly excelled in during his ODI career. However, the injury to Naseem Shah means that he may have to shoulder a great proportion of the bowling load up front. Recent displays in ODIs would suggest that he certainly has the ability to excel – indeed, a decent number of his ODI wickets this season have come with a semi-new ball. However, if he does bowl with the new ball, he likely won’t offer the same level of control as Naseem.
The make-up of Pakistan’s bowling attack means that Haris Rauf’s spells in every phase now carry great importance. Considering how adept he is at making breakthroughs, Babar Azam may be tempted to utilize him more as an attacking weapon, particularly in the middle overs, while Wasim jr could shoulder more of the death-bowling burden. Death-bowling is Haris’ specialty, but for Pakistan, disrupting the flow in the middle overs is essential, and Naseem was a master at this. This may lead to Haris being utilized more in the middle to compensate for that lost weapon.
All Phase Bowling
Few bowlers are top-tier in all phases – Haris Rauf is very much one of them, able to strike with the new ball, pose an enforcer threat in the middle overs, and then keep batsmen quiet at the death.
His new-ball bowling skills were easy to see right at the start – way back in 2019, when Haris Rauf played his first domestic cricket tournament, he opened the bowling in the 50-over Pakistan Cup. He bowled with natural outswing to the right-hander with the new ball, although his control wasn’t the best. However, the skill was unquestionable. Over the last year or so since the 2022 Asia Cup, his new-ball bowling has gone to another level, with much better consistency with his lines reaping rich rewards. In this ODI season, Haris Rauf has almost bowled a Test-style line & length at times with the new ball and semi-new ball, plugging away at the 4th/5th stump-lines with fuller lengths and mixing them up with hard lengths; this has seen him beat a lot of batsmen’s defences. However, he can still leak runs at times.
In the middle overs, Haris Rauf has been more successful in the 11-20 phase, when the ball is still a bit newer, and the 35-40 phase, when defensive skills start coming into play somewhat. However, he possesses the raw skillset to make breakthroughs in the middle-over phase where partnerships are building as well, with the ability to bowl hard lengths at pace to upset the rhythm of settled batsmen. At the death, everyone knows what Haris is capable of. Yorkers, bouncers, change-ups – he has been one of the most successful pacers at the death over the past few years.
If Pakistan feel that Hassan Ali can do the job with the new ball, then Haris can be the first-change bowler, a role that he’s really enjoyed since coming into the ODI fold. This gives Pakistan the luxury of bowling more of him in the middle overs and then at the death. However, new-ball wickets are essential for Pakistan’s game plan to succeed, and if they feel that Haris is the likeliest option to be effective with Shaheen Shah Afridi in the early overs, then so be it.
Two T20 World Cups, two editions of the Asia Cup – Haris Rauf has high-class performances in every tournament he has played so far, showing he has a great temperament for the big stage.
He bowled well in most of the 2021 T20 World Cup, with the highlight of the tournament being his Man of the Match display against New Zealand, where he picked up 4/22. In the 2022 T20 Asia Cup, he put up a good display in the 2nd match against India, removing Rohit Sharma after a quick start and keeping Virat Kohli quiet at the death with some pinpoint yorkers. Despite Pakistan’s loss in the final to Sri Lanka, he delivered then, too, picking up 3/29, including early strikes in the powerplay.
Although Virat Kohli ultimately had the upper hand in the game, Haris Rauf’s powerplay spell against India in the 2022 T20 World Cup was one for the ages, as he removed Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav. He was also superb in the tournament’s final, fighting hard with 2/23, including the all-important wicket of Jos Buttler. In the recent Asia Cup, he was at his best against India and Bangladesh in the 2023 ODI Asia Cup, dismissing Gill, Iyer, and Kishan In his 3/58 against India and then picking up a Player of the Match award with 4/19 against Bangladesh.
It’s hard to overstate how significant the loss of Naseem Shah has been to Pakistan’s World Cup tactics. He was also an excellent all-phase bowler, crucial to Babar Azam’s ODI plans. With him out, the pressure on Haris Rauf and Shaheen Shah Afridi has exponentially increased, and the duo will be expected to lead Pakistan’s attack and perform well for the Men in Green to have any chance of going all the way.
Pakistan’s batting ceiling is perhaps not as high as the likes of England, India, and Australia. However, strong performances from the bowling line-up, particularly the likes of Haris Rauf, can go a long way to make up for that. Whether it’s the need for crucial new-ball wickets, essential middle-over breakthroughs, or keeping set batsmen quiet at the death, Babar will rely on Haris in various situations throughout the World Cup. His recent performances and career trajectory show that he’s undoubtedly up for the challenge, and his preparation for the tournament has been top-notch, barring the blip of a minor injury during the Asia Cup. Pakistan will hope Haris is fit and firing on all cylinders come their first World Cup game on October 6th. Playing in undoubtedly the biggest tournament of his career so far, Haris Rauf now has a chance to propel his ever-growing stature in world cricket even further.