'Pakistan is lucky to have a talent like Haris Rauf' - Lahore Qalandars

Fast bowler is the pride of his Pakistan Super League franchise after his starring role in win over New Zealand in Sharjah

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Even before the post-match interviews had begun at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Tuesday night, Sameen Rana was already feeling a little emotional.

It had been another one of those nights for supporters of Pakistan, the second in the space of three days, when their players had brought them euphoria via their deeds on the cricket field.

Then Haris Rauf began speaking after being handed the player of the match award for his four wickets. At that point, Rana really was struggling to keep it together.

“I just want to thank Lahore Qalandars, too, who supported me a lot,” Rauf said at the end of his flash interview. “They're the reason I'm here.”

To the chief operating officer of the Qalandars franchise, and manager, confidante and friend of Rauf, it was the sweetest sentiment.

“Before this tournament he said, ‘Sameen, this time I am going to be different’,” said Rana, the Dubai-based Qalandars administrator.

“So last night, when he performed, it was very, very emotional. I literally had tears in my eyes.”

Rana managed to get three hours sleep the night after the win over New Zealand. First there was delirium of a nail-biting win.

Then there were the phone calls with Rauf and Shaheen Afridi, the other Qalandars champion doing Pakistan proud. No wonder sleep was difficult to come by.

At the time of the last T20 World Cup, Rauf was selling mobile phones for a wage of $50 per month and playing tape-ball cricket in his spare time.

It is still only two-and-a-half years since he first arrived on the scene in a Pakistan Super League match in Dubai, having been given his chance by Aaqib Javed, the Qalandars coach.

The first time Haris Rauf bowled with a leather cricket ball in a trial with Lahore Qalandars, the delivery was clocked at 92.3mph. Photo: Lahore Qalandars

“This is six years of hard work which absolutely everyone was opposed to,” Rana said of the Qalandars project which gave Rauf his platform to succeed.

“Because of the team performance we got a bashing from all corners. But we stuck to it. Now, when you see Haris performing like this, you can’t say anything more.

“Pakistan is lucky to have this talent. We have just been the vehicle for him. He is a talent Aaqib believed in. And, because Aaqib believed in him, we believed in him.”

Aaqib has built the Qalandars cricket programme, after leaving his role in Dubai as UAE coach. Part of his masterplan has been regular talent-spotting events.

Over the past three years, over 500,000 aspiring players across Pakistan have trialled with the franchise. Rauf was one of the first to make it, from a weekend in Gujranwala in which 20,000 were given their chance to impress.

“He wasn’t planning to attend the trial, but he went with his friend,” Rana said.

“He said, ‘OK, I used to bowl with a tennis ball, let me try my luck’. We had a speedgun, and the first ball he ever bowled with a hard ball came at 92mph.

“Aaqib was blown away by that. He said, ‘Bowl again’. He bowled again and it came up as 90mph.

“He bowled two or three more balls, and Aaqib said, ‘You have the talent, and we are going to support you’.”

Such was their belief in their new find, Qalandars gave him a 10-year contract, on a monthly salary of 100,000 rupees (around $600), which was a substantial upgrade on his salary for selling phones.

“We did it in the hope he would become a superstar, a star to serve Qalandars and Pakistan,” Rana said.

“We thought it was a noble cause, but we faced so many hurdles. After the bad performances, people thought we were not serious, and that we were a circus, playing unknowns.

“There was so much bashing of us because of the players we were trying to promote – including Haris.”

Within two years of the trial, Rauf had made it to the Qalandars first team. In his second match, against Karachi Kings, he was the matchwinner. He has scarcely looked back since.

“It was such an emotional moment, Aaqib and I went into the ground when the team was coming out,” Rana said of that night in Dubai.

“Haris broke down in tears, and I had tears in my eyes. Seeing him progress to this point was unbelievable.”

And Rana is grateful to Rauf, too.

“As a child growing up, I had always wanted to become a cricketer,” Rana said.

“My family stopped me, and said I had to become a chartered accountant. You can’t be a cricketer because it is not a profession. Now, to be honest, I have lived that dream through Haris.”

Updated: October 28, 2021, 3:12 AM