Meet Haris Rauf, Pakistan cricket’s latest speed-demon Cinderella man


Gutted for Pitbull. It has been a hard week for the Miami-based chart ace, sport’s own king of the tournament opening ceremony. Pitbull was booked to perform at the opening of the Pakistan Super League at the Dubai Cricket Stadium last weekend.

This was, of course, a hugely exciting prospect. As anyone who witnessed his set at the Brazil 2014 World Cup will be aware, Pitbull gives great opening ceremony, a style of performance that doesn’t really involve singing or rapping but is more a matter of standing on a lighted plinth looking purposeful and occasionally pointing at things.

Sadly there would be no reprise this time. Pitbull had to cancel after the plane he was due to board fell apart on the runway. But he did leave a message on social media thanking everyone for everything.

And while no one would ever want to place Pitbull in danger, or take any pleasure from the image of a white-suited Pitbull plunging, parachute fluttering, still glazed and baffled behind his tinted specs, into the jagged terrain of the remote Kashmir mountains, the good news is that things went pretty well in his absence.

The opening ceremony was excellent. Boney M filled the gap as headliners. A marching band in gold-trimmed jackets played a muzak arrangement of Europe’s The Final Countdown. And most important of all, the tournament has already found its first star, and in the best possible way, The Guardian reported.

All hail Haris Rauf, sensation of the opening week of PSL3. Rauf had been a rumour until now, a raggedy 150km/h quick, a 23-year-old raised on tape-ball games and glimpsed briefly in the Abu Dhabi Cup doing horrible things to the toes of the South African Test player Heino Kuhn.

We have been here before of course. It is a well-worn Pakistan cricket trope, the urban foundling wandering out of gully-cricket and straight on to our TV screens. We want this to be true, want Haris to be the real deal, a ready-made speed-demon blooming right up out of the soil, the kind of presence whose emergence chimes with so many things that are vital to Pakistan cricket and to our concept of sport generally.

This is, of course, a bit of a myth in itself, and an unhelpful one, casting an air of noble primitivism on Pakistan cricket. In reality, Rauf is hardly an urchin. He attended Islamabad University. But he fits the story in other ways. He’s naturally quick (148-150km/h on the gun). He’s also entirely self-taught, playing in the streets of Rawalpindi against the wishes of his strict-sounding family, walking the city whirling his arms, working out the mechanics of his own action.

Eventually, he turned up at the open “talent hunt” trials, bowled 92mph in the nets and was snapped up immediately by Lahore Qalandars. The moment of ignition came this week with a breakneck four-for against the Karachi Kings in Dubai.

He looked the part too, ambling in off an easy run and sending down a mix of yorkers and lifters. His arms cross over as he bowls. He doesn’t really bound, but unwinds in a slingshot, pivoting his shoulders and then violently flexing his lower back. Let’s face it, he probably wouldn’t get through the Under-13s in this country bowling like that. We’d soon have him working on being lined up, protecting his hinges and bowling like a fast-medium mass-production humanoid.

For now, Haris has been told he can put on another 5km/h with a little tinkering. And if he’s still in one piece at the end of it he has an outside chance of making it to the World Cup in England, Pakistan’s latest Cinderella man.

At which point it is probably time to take a step back. A week in the life of a prodigy: these are excitable times. But then this is a story all sport loves to tell itself, a story about talent and opportunity and the health of nations.

It’s there in the mythology of American baseball and in Australian cricket, with its deep attachment to those fond, happy sandy-haired figures out there in all that lush Australian green. It was there in English sport too during its own much mythologised Golden Age of cobble-street urchins and mine shafts crammed with World Cup-winning centre-halves.

This is a story of social mobility too, of sport as a dream factory, there to scoop up and transform whatever blooms out of the soil. It is from this perspective the ballad of Haris Rauf is interesting to an English cricket fan. Mainly because it just couldn’t happen here.

There are still exceptions. Tymal Mills didn’t play club cricket until he was 14. But really, we have no Raufs. If you’re not already playing age-group cricket by your early teenage years, well that’s you pretty much done. And if you don’t go to a private school you’re disproportionately unlikely to get that far.

The summer game has spent a generation walling itself up in its own shrinking square of green, a sport that is invisible in the inner cities, that exists among the pre-converted or those with the means to break in.

Where to go from here? For all the inanities of the ECB’s The Hundred competition – something invented by and for people who don’t actually like cricket at all – there is at least an element of outreach. People who barely know the game exists will see it happen. Buried within it is an idea that perhaps this is a place that is open to talent, a place those from outside could aim to break into.

It is the only direction worth travelling. For now, and for all the wider, next-level problems of Pakistan cricket, we can only marvel a little enviously at the story of the kid from nowhere.