Mohammad Haris Can Do Everything, and Therein Lies the Problem
Looking at Mohammad Haris’ skillset and how T20 batsmen evolve.
The moment a young Pakistan batsman clears his front leg and attempts to deposit the ball into the stands, there is a collective groan from the purists. However, that groan remains short-lived if said batsman is successful in his endeavor, then the discourse evolves to how this batsman is the one who will save the team from the tyranny of the anchors. After those two extreme reactions, there is a bargaining stage where it is decided that the batsman should bat in the middle order for the national team, never mind the fact that all of his success may have come as an opener.
Due to talent identification being seriously lacking, Pakistan will try countless openers in their middle order without realizing the base requirements that make a middle-order batsman. Those experiments will inevitably fail, and they will go crawling back to the few true middle-order bats in the country who themselves are flawed. They have made a living on being unique and thus have not needed to evolve beyond that, with Pakistan responsible for most of their insecurities. It is a perfect storm of mismanagement.
Mohammad Haris has always been different. You could have guessed as much when he skipped down the track on PSL debut to smite Imad Wasim over the boundary. In his first ODI innings, he attempted to recreate that moment and missed by about five feet; one ball later, he went again, and this time he was successful. That being said, Haris may rue the day he walked out at no.4 for Peshawar vs. Multan and smacked Sheldon Cottrell for 3 maximums. It only takes one innings to vindicate popular opinion, especially when that opinion serves to be a solution to a longstanding problem. His former teammate is perhaps currently ruing a similar cameo vs. Multan in 2021 that convinced Pakistan that he was the solution to their lower middle-order problem.
Mohammad Haris is a powerplay basher and a very good one at that. In fact, he may already be among the top 10 batters in his field, a commendable achievement considering he made his league debut only last year. Now a powerplay basher, as the name suggests, is someone who takes the bowling on in the powerplay. It seems because Pakistan has been so used to their openers plodding around at barely 7 runs per over in the powerplay that, every batsman who scores slightly faster than that is seen as a “Powerplay Basher.” There is only one powerplay basher in Pakistan, and it is Mohammad Haris.
|Batsmen since 2022||Powerplay Runs||Average||Strike Rate|
*in T20 leagues (data from Cricmetric)
The powerplay basher role is not a relatively new one, but it has come close to being perfected in recent times. While it is a challenging role to deliver on consistently, it is not as highly specialized. To have a Powerplay basher in your team is not the end-all and be-all; it’s a handy player to have but not one that all teams look to have, as shown by only 3 of the above-mentioned batsmen regularly playing for their national teams.
With the next T20 World Cup in West Indies, where the pitches are likely to be slow and low, scoring quick runs vs. the new ball may be the key to getting ahead of the game before the opposition spinners bring everything to a grinding halt. Mohammad Haris could be the key to Pakistan winning powerplays, especially with the likes of Shaheen and Naseem lowering the bar.
But that is not what you came for. You wanted to know if Haris can crack a middle-order role and be the solution to Pakistan’s problems.
To understand that, we must first state the base requirements for a middle-order bat in T20s:
- Experience in the role
- Ability to play high pace
- Ability to play quality spin
- Fast Starter
And then we must understand how difficult it is for a batsman to transition from being an opener to a middle-order bat. He will no longer have 20 overs to bat, no longer time to settle, and have to react instead of just act.
There are only a few players who have managed to successfully make such a transition, such as Glenn Phillips, Liam Livingstone, Aiden Markram, and Josh Inglis. Inglis and Phillips transitioned down because their close-to-elite game vs. spin allowed them to, while Markram’s transition was a last-ditch effort to force him to make something of his prodigious talent. Livingstone’s initial numbers were somewhat similar to Haris’, so we will be using him as a template.
Livingstone first burst onto the T20 scene with two back-to-back great T20 Blast seasons. Over 18 innings, he scored 628 runs at an average of 35 and a healthy SR of 159; one might have thought that such elite numbers would make him the best opener of the competition, but he may not even make the top 5.
Nevertheless, his performance would earn him an England call-up, a single T20I where he batted at 4 and then was discarded thanks to the abundance of limited overs opening options. England may have ignored him for now, but T20 leagues around the world have lower standards. For two years, Livingstone traveled around the world; he represented Perth Scorchers in Australia, Cape Town Blitz in South Africa, Rajasthan Royals in India, Karachi Kings in the UAE, and Peshawar Zalmi in Pakistan. Opening got his foot in the door, but Livingstone knew that mastering the middle-order role is what would force open the door for higher levels, i.e., a consistent IPL and England T20I team spot. So, while he was opening for most of these games in the last 2 years, his approach was different from the preceding 2 years.
An easy way to assess “power” is the 4:6 ratio. Power directly implies the ability of a batsman to hit sixes, and thus the proportion of 4s to 6s can estimate his power level. A middle-order bat should be able to hit sixes because it allows them to take the field out of the equation and reduces the contest to batsman vs. bowler. Most elite middle-order bats currently have a 4:6 ratio lesser than 1.5, with the likes of Pooran, Pollard, and Powell possessing a ratio less than 1 meaning they hit more 6s than 4s.
From 2019-20, only Chris Gayle had a better 4:6 ratio among top 3 batsmen vs. pace than Liam Livingstone; you will even see a familiar name at no.4.
Mohammad Haris tops the same filter since 2022:
*in T20 leagues (data from Cricmetric)
Livingstone put in the work to become a T20 middle-order bat, but no amount of preparation for the role will be better than actually doing the role and figuring it out in the middle with real-time game situations. And he stumbled; from 2019-20, he was a poor middle-order bat whenever he was asked to perform the role.
|Role||% Inns||Runs||Average||SR||4s||6s||4:6 ratio|
He would struggle vs. left arm bowling (avg 16) in general, be it pace, orthodox, or unorthodox, and would not be able to take on leg spin (SR 102) due to not being settled at the crease when it was employed. He ticked the power box, the fast starter box, and the ability to play high pace box, but he still needed experience in the role and the ability to play quality spin.
After two years of traveling the world, playing different bowlers in different conditions and in different roles, he was ready to rule.
|Role||% Inns||Runs||Average||SR||4s||6s||4:6 ratio|
He mastered his weaknesses; sure, left-arm spin is still what you would look to bowl to him, but it will not dismiss him as regularly as it did in 2019-20 (average in 2019-20 vs. SLA – 24, average from 2021 onwards vs. SLA – 50). Left-arm pace, he bashes now. Leg spin? The world’s best leg spinner traveled for 5 sixes in 23 balls off his bat.
Mohammad Haris, like Livingstone used to be, is weak vs. left-arm pace and, at times, struggles to start vs. spin like the old Livingstone. But like the old Livingstone, he is also a fast starter, a power-hitting opener, and has the unique ability to take down high pace.
Data from CricViz
So, can Mohammad Haris crack the middle-order role? The (data) science says he can, and anyway, science is the man, and man can do anything. But Pakistan and its fans must realize the amount of effort and investment that was made to turn good T20 blast Opener Livingstone into T20 Super Saiyan Livingstone. He not only traveled the world for T20 leagues for 2 years but also traveled with the England Lions and played multiple formats. There is a first-class game in Sri Lanka where he scored 100s in both innings, one of them being a not-out vs. a Test-capped bowling attack. Pakistan and Mohammad Haris may not have it in them to compete with this frankly gluttonous use of resources, but if there is one opener who has the potential to be turned into a good T20 middle-order bat, it’s Mohammad Haris.
But it will take time, and Pakistan are not the most patient, especially when it comes to problems that require immediate solutions. Haris may never get out of his Livingstone 2019-20 period to see the promised land. At the expense of sounding like the start of Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief, forget about Mohammad Haris, the middle-order bat; there are no happy endings in Pakistan Cricket.