Is Haris Rauf up to the Test?
The speedster is set to make his Test debut for Pakistan in the first Test against England.
Tapiya. Parchi. Rock Thrower.
These are just some of the tags that have been used to describe a man who could be set to debut for Pakistan in Test cricket. Almost two years ago, people were questioning the inclusion of Haris Rauf in the squad for the South Africa Test series. Now, the 29-year-old speedster is genuinely being considered as a viable option to represent Pakistan in the one format he has yet to debut in.
A lot has changed over two years. After debuting in the PSL in 2019, the Pindi-born pacer has established himself as a guaranteed starter in the Pakistan white-ball side. Despite some criticism along the way, Rauf has received global acclaim due to his exemplary form in the shorter formats. However, he is still lacking in experience when it comes to red-ball cricket. Haris has only played four First Class games in the domestic Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and a handful of First Class games for English county side Yorkshire.
His call-up to the Test side was justified on the basis that he bowls fast and can reverse swing the ball. This, along with the absence of an injured Naseem Shah, led to the selection decision. Some of the subsequent squads included Naseem, yet Rauf still featured but did not play a game. Prior to the 2022 Australia series, Rauf seemed set to debut – with injuries to Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf paving the way. Yet, in the week prior to the first Test, he tested positive for COVID and missed out. Now, with Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali ruled out due to injury and form, respectively – there might be an opening.
This article will provide a detailed look at the red-ball experience Haris Rauf has, as well as his general skillset and how it can benefit the Pakistan Test team.
Whilst his experience may be limited, it is not non-existent. During the 2019 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Rauf featured in three high-scoring games. His debut figures of 1-70 (Northern only bowled for 1 innings) are nothing to write home about, yet the wicket of one of the standout players of that season, Fawad Alam, is something worth noting. His next match was slightly better, with Rauf ending with figures of 5-131 across two innings – including the scalp of the top run-scorer that season (Imran Butt) in both innings.
The final match of Rauf’s 2019/20 domestic QeA season also ended in a draw with figures of 1-74 across two innings. The tournament was a high-scoring affair, with the lowest total posted by a team being 300. This might suggest that the pitches were not up to standard, and it was much easier for batters than for bowlers. Yet, Rauf did show glimpses of his ability, bowling some impressive spells early on.
Rauf would not play First Class cricket again for over two years, but in his first game back since the 19/20 season, he left a mark. In what would be his sole match of the 2021/22 QeA season, Rauf picked up 9 wickets for 109 runs. These remain his best figures in a First Class match so far. The timing of the performance was remarkable, too – Northern had struggled in their first six games, drawing four and losing two, being second-last in the table. Rauf’s 9-fer in this game helped them to a comfortable first win of the season, and they would go on to win their next three games by an innings to narrowly qualify for the final, where they fell short against domestic heavyweights Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
His First Class experience is not restricted to the confines of the Pakistan border. Rauf also had a stint in county cricket, where he represented Yorkshire. In the 2022 season, Rauf represented the northern English outfit for four games. His standout performance for Yorkshire was against Division 1 side Kent, against whom he picked up five wickets. His figures of 5-65 included the wicket of Zak Crawley, a man many Pakistan fans may be familiar with. Rauf would not bowl during the 2nd innings and would miss the next game due to a niggle. Yorkshire only managed to win one match all season, and it was a match in which Rauf was their joint-highest wicket-taker alongside Steven Patterson. His figures of 3-81 and 3-96 were pivotal in Yorkshire’s solitary win of the county season.
Nonetheless, this may come across as an underwhelming season for the Pakistani pace sensation. However, considering this was Rauf’s first stint playing on English pitches, combined with an injury interrupting his campaign and being part of an undercooked bowling lineup, Rauf pulled his weight and contributed as best as he could. If there’s one thing Haris Rauf should not be accused of, it is a lack of effort and commitment.
Where does he fit in?
Interestingly enough, despite once being considered incompetent with the new ball, many of Rauf’s wickets have come with it in the past year. He may stray from time to time, but his outswing, coupled with his deadly pace, seem to have done the trick on multiple occasions. He had always shown the ability to generate movement with the new ball, but the control was missing. However, it seems to be much improved in recent times, to the extent that he has been a fearsome wicket-taking threat with the new (white) ball in recent months.
What Rauf brings to the Pakistan bowling attack is versatility. He can play as a first-change pacer, troubling batsmen with extreme pace and hard lengths. He also possesses the ability to reverse the older ball, something that can be quite useful on pitches in the subcontinent. Once considered a one-dimensional bowler, Haris Rauf has shown time and again that he does not need to be limited to one role within the team – in fact, he is more of a crisis man who can step up when needed. However, whether he will be able to consistently execute his skills with the control required for Test cricket remains to be seen.
One may argue that he can also contribute with the bat, should we need someone to slog a few lower down the order – but that might be me getting ahead of myself.
He has the skills, he has some experience, and he has the passion. There is one worry…
Haris is a first-choice bowler in the two shorter formats for Pakistan; he has played 30 international white-ball matches in 2022 alone. Whilst he may not be getting any younger, it is still unfair to expect so much from a fast bowler such as himself. Bowling 140kph+ in a Test match is a demanding task and can take its toll on his body. Pakistan are scheduled to play five Tests against England and New Zealand within just six weeks.
The Pakistan management should ensure that they do not run him into the ground and bring his career to a premature end. This is imperative, and a clear plan should be in place to manage his workload and ensure appropriate game management. Should we prove to be competent in this regard, I have no other qualms at the moment.
I, for one, am excited at the prospect of seeing a man who was once maligned, despite his sacrifices and efforts, donning the baggy green cap. From tape ball to Test cricket – what a story. I look forward to watching Haris Rauf running in to bowl against England at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on December 1st, insha’Allah.