Haris Rauf went to Australia with the hope of a Hobart Hurricanes contract, but has instead hit the jackpot with the Melbourne Stars, lighting up the Big Bash with his exhilarating fast bowling. He was originally signed up for only three games as cover for Dale Steyn, but he has been retained for the whole tournament following an injury to the English quick Pat Brown and is expected to confirm an extension for next season soon.
Rauf, 26, was only discovered three years ago in open trials by the PSL franchise Lahore Qalandars in Gujranwala, but became hot property within two weeks of playing the Big Bash. He already has a five-wicket haul and a hat-trick, taking 13 wickets so far in just four games to make him the joint-second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament. These performances in a highly competitive environment have instilled Rauf with the belief that he is close to fulfilling his dream of playing for his country.
"It's a completely different experience here," Rauf told ESPNcricinfo. "The standard of cricket, the crowd and the atmosphere around make you truly absorbed in the game. Every moment in the field is enjoyable and the enthusiasm from the crowd really intensifies your passion. It is a really great time out here for me and I am making most out of it. I know I have proved my potential and my next goal is to play for Pakistan in the T20 World Cup, which is also in Australia.
"I never really planned my future in cricket. I grew up playing with a tennis ball until 2017, and never thought that I could play for Pakistan. But this dream was given to me by Lahore Qalandars and Aaqib Javed's persistence with me gave me direction. He has been a driving force for me. I had a feeling that a pure fast bowler bowling over 140kph can't be ignored in Pakistan. I have the pace, the passion, and with all the development I started to believe that I can play top-level cricket."
ESPNcricinfo understands that Rauf was sent to Australia by Lahore Qalandars with the intention of attending trials with the Hurricanes, who wanted to have a look at him before signing a full season's contract in November. During his stay he was linked with Glenorchy in Hobart, in Tasmania's Premier League, and took 4 for 12 in a T20 game against Clarence including the wicket of the Australia and Hurricanes batsman D'Arcy Short.
The Hurricanes didn't pick him up, and Nick Cummins, the general manager, commercial and marketing, for the Melbourne BBL sides, called the Qalandars CEO Sameen Rana, offering Rauf a short-term opportunity when Steyn suffered a side strain.
Rauf shot to prominence alongside another fast bowler, Salman Irshad, when both were in the race for the third edition of the PSL. Rauf previously played for Western Suburbs Cricket Club in Sydney, where he was injured playing two-day cricket after bowling nearly 26 overs per day. Aaqib set
He was given a target by Aaqib, to add ten kilos to his 73kg frame in order to aid his development.
"I was excited and was taking wickets and pushing myself hard," Rauf said. "Fitness has been an issue because until 2017 I never really had any sense about it. Never thought about it because I had been playing tennis-ball cricket and never been disciplined with fitness and diet. I only started to hear about its importance when I signed with the Lahore Qalandars development program. In Pakistan when you grow up as an immature cricketer the word fitness is just an alien to you. You hear it, but you never really understood its significance.
"But when I first came Australia with Qalandars, who linked me with a club, I saw the lifestyle around the sportsmen, how they train and how they enhance their performance. What are their routines and how they pull themselves together in the off-season to get ready for the active season. How they avoid injuries by getting fitter, so I learnt all this from here and the fitter you are, the more control you have of your game and performance."
Rauf missed PSL 3 and returned to Western Suburbs in 2018 with a promotion to the first grade and later earned a place in the Qalandars' PSL side for the fourth edition of the tournament, his first major break. He took 11 wickets in 10 matches, with an economy rate of 7.41, including a match-winning 4 for 23 against the Karachi Kings.
Rauf idolises Steyn and playing in his place was an "honour" for him. "I admire him a lot," he said. "He has done great for his country, he is a tremendous fast bowler and is a perfect role model for any youngster who wants to become a fast bowler. With him around you have a lot to learn and sharing a dressing room with your hero is like a dream come true. If he isn't playing it's in a way a loss for me because I am not able to share the ball with him. His aggression is the thing I love about him. I obviously follow his work ethics, lifestyle and ability to control the line with outswingers."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent