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Pakistan’s white-ball men looking to break shackles in England

Wahab Riaz and Haris Rauf are at opposite ends of the spectrum. One is a veteran of 27 Tests, 89 ODIs and 31 T20Is. The other is a new T20 sensation in the circuit with just three first-class matches to his name. However, as they board the flight for England later in July as part of the same 29-man group, their goals are pretty much in sync – a place in the Test starting XI.

“I was called by the PCB to enquire if I am available to play Test cricket if required on a replacement basis. I straightaway said yes because my priority ultimately is to play for Pakistan,” Riaz had said last week.

Rauf’s goal isn’t very different either although it is in the shortest format of the game that he has shot to limelight.

“I made my mind properly that I am going to play Test at any cost,” Rauf said in a video conference. “I am putting all my efforts to earn it. I am all in for it. I not only ready but very much excited to take a lot out of this [England] tour. Whatever I will get, I will make most out of it. The way I got a start in white-ball cricket, I wish to make a name for myself in red-ball cricket. It’s a long tour and big opportunity for me,”

Pakistan aren’t short of quicker men, though. They have named 10 fast bowlers amongst the 29 names in the list for the tour of England. This includes Test players Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah and Imran Khan. 

Credits: PCB

It is unlikely that Pakistan will need either Riaz or Rauf on the tour in red-ball cricket. But with fast bowlers prone to injuries and rotation and the squad carrying so many pacers, it isn’t an unimaginable proportion.

Riaz’s case is curious. He wasn’t handed a contract for the upcoming season considering that he plays only the shortest format of the game. Now with a red-ball return a year after he took a break from the format will mean that he missed out on a contractual opportunity. But that doesn’t seem to perturb Riaz.

“I know a central contract gives you security that you will play for Pakistan, but even without it, my ultimate goal is to play for Pakistan anyway. Unfortunately, I am not a part of the contract [list] but I will hopefully earn it with my performance next year,” Riaz had said.

On the one hand, Riaz has been impressive in red-ball cricket. Since the start of 2016 till he played his last Test, Riaz was Pakistan’s second-highest wicket-taking pacer with 40 wickets at 34.87 in 12 matches. On the other hand, such was Pakistan’s influx of fast bowling talent that he played in just four Tests in the last three years. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Rauf has been killing it in Australia in the Big Bash League. The Melbourne Stars recruit finished the 2019/20 BBL season as the fourth-highest wicket-taker with 20 wickets in 10 matches at an average of 13.35 and an economy a shade over seven. 

Discovered by the Lahore Qalandars franchise head coach and former Pakistan pacer Aqib Javed at a fast bowling trial, Rauf’s stocks rose impeccably over the last few years resulting in a T20I debut. 

“Aqib had skills and he shared and guided me all the way,” Rauf said. “But then you move on to the next level and find new coaches and they share their experiences and help accordingly. I worked with Waqar Younis in the nets session during the Bangladesh series; I learnt several new things and going forward, I am sure this learning phase will continue. I have weaknesses but I have skill as well and you have to enhance it every day.”

With an ability to clock 145-150kmph on the speed gun consistently, Rauf is a massive threat in white-ball cricket. But his red-ball credentials are virtually non-existent as he has played just three first-class games amidst the hoard of T20s.

But Pakistan aren’t a side to stick to a select group of players in any international squad. Always ready to experiment and throw players, particularly pace bowlers, into the deep sea, Pakistan might just pull a rabbit out of the hat in Tests with Rauf when they head to England.  

 

Rohit Sankar is a freelance cricket journalist stuck in a love-hate live-in relationship with the game. To rile him up, mention the 1999 World Cup semi-final. Rohit has been writing about cricket for well over 10 years now, and has written for a variety of news and sports outlets over this time.

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