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Mohammad Haris: 'My game is such that I take the attack to every bowler'

It's been an unlikely rise to stardom for the 21-year old, who has "backed his strengths" to shine at the T20 World Cup

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Mohammad Haris: 'Everyone has their own role in the team and they have to fulfil that. I'll be happy to play anywhere, really.'  •  Associated Press

Mohammad Haris: 'Everyone has their own role in the team and they have to fulfil that. I'll be happy to play anywhere, really.'  •  Associated Press

Mohammad Haris walks out of the luxury hotel Pakistan's cricket team is staying at in Adelaide, flanked by the team manager while team security guards hover close by. The team is about to leave for Sydney, where they play the T20 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. A few dozen fans wait excitedly for his arrival while security tries to herd them back behind one of the barricades. A young girl, no older than six, clutches a little bat she wants Haris to embellish with his autograph. It will go nicely alongside a marquee signature that's scrawled right across the middle - that of Babar Azam's.
It's difficult to overstate what an unlikely rise to stardom this has been for 21-year-old Haris. A week ago, he wasn't in Pakistan's squad for this tournament at all. He came in as a replacement for the injured Fakhar Zaman. Haris had played all of one T20I and four ODIs, scoring 18 runs in all. That wasn't complemented by a wealth of T20 franchise experience, either; he has just five PSL games under his belt.
That was the extent of Haris' experience when he found himself facing Kagiso Rabada with the new ball at the SCG in a game Pakistan had to win. Mohammad Rizwan had just fallen in the first over, and Wayne Parnell had smacked Haris flush in the grill on the second ball he faced.
With his grill still ringing, it might be reasonable to assume it was the shorter ball the wet-behind-the-ears Haris would look to keep out. Rabada, naturally, pitched up the first ball. He wouldn't have watched Haris train in the nets, of course, and so couldn't have known how insouciantly Haris treated high pace, or the threat of physical injury while facing it. Team mentor Matthew Hayden, speaking ahead of the semi-final, told a press conference he was the one player willing to face Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf, and almost every other fast bowler in the nets. A full delivery after a short one was elementary.
So, indeed was the whip over the midwicket Haris played, instinctively on the front foot to a ball over 140kph, the first ball he had ever faced off Rabada. The second ball was dealt with similar disdain, flicked over fine leg for another six, before the third was pulled away in front of fine leg for four. Anrich Nortje wouldn't be spared, either. Haris demonstrated he was comfortable scooping it over the keeper against extreme pace, the ball going all the way. It's a shot that will either force sides to push fine leg back against Haris in the powerplay, freeing up all of his other shots with just one other man in the deep, or force length adjustments pacers might not want to make.
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo outside his hotel on a balmy Monday morning in a T-shirt and jeans, hands in his pockets and the hint of a smile on his face, Haris comes across just as cavalier as he does at the crease. "My game is such that I take the attack to every bowler," he shrugs. "I didn't look at the bowler, whether it was Rabada or Nortje or whoever else. I just backed myself and my own strengths."
This is the same player who fell twice against the West Indies playing shots that look ugly when they get you out, and audacious when they race to the boundary. He would pay for that extreme intent by being dropped from the side, and then going on to take part in just one of 18 T20Is Pakistan played in the lead-up to this World Cup, even though it seemed obvious this was the perfect format to deploy his precocious striking abilities in. He was left out of the main World Cup squad altogether.
The message seemed to be "We don't want that kind of shot-making round here." Yet, with Babar and Rizwan struggling for both form and timing, it was precisely Haris's kind of intent Pakistan required in the powerplay. Even though Haris knew full well the rap on the knuckles he had received for playing the way Pakistan needed him to in the past, he did not step back one inch. In that sense, innings of 28 off 11 and 31 off 18 can be seen as admirably unselfish performances. They also make him the only man at this World Cup with a strike rate in excess of 200 (min 25 balls faced).
"Everyone has their own role in the team and they have to fulfil that," he says. "I'll be happy to play anywhere, really. I have confidence in my shots when I play through the air that I'll be able to clear the rope. It's great when you perform well and help the team out. Now it's about taking the momentum through. We have a lot of confidence. We came in winning the tri-series and that gives us confidence, too."
Hayden, speaking ahead of the semi-final against New Zealand, said the quiet part out loud when discussing Haris' sudden emergence. "Not even in the squad, and yet performing like he should have been there from the start. Great story, really significant story of any World Cup."
"I watched him closely over the last month and he was the one individual that came into every net session and faced all of our quicks. For me, that was like McGrath, Warne, Lee, and Gillespie. If you could face those bowlers and you were playing well then you knew you had a great chance of making runs in the actual game.
"Not even in the squad, and yet performing like he should have been there from the start. Great story."
Pakistan team mentor Hayden on Haris
"It's no surprise to see Harry come in and play so beautifully. He's got a very good technique on our fast, bouncy wickets and he's got a freshness. One of the things as an outsider coming into this tournament is pretty much the entire cricketing community with the amount of programme is fatigued to some degree. To have a young fresh face with nothing to lose, just to play with great freedom has been a wonderful expression for him personally but also for Team Pakistan."
Haris might be winning over fans now, but the world of Pakistan cricket fandom is fickle. The shifting sands of public opinion mean a player who was cast aside just weeks earlier has been pulled into a close embrace once more. Even though nothing, when it comes to Haris, has fundamentally changed. He's always been a player to back himself and takes lots of risks early on in his innings. He's always enjoyed hitting the ball through the air, or stepping away and swiping at it with a bat cross enough to make purists wince.
New Zealand will puzzle over ways to stop him, and might yet succeed, but the relative paucity of data points in Haris' nascent career gives him something of an edge. It would be a surprise if they didn't turn to Mitchell Santner in the powerplay should Haris be at the crease; it was a ploy that worked a treat against England, dulling the explosiveness of right-handers Alex Hales and Jos Buttler, allowing them just 24 runs in 22 balls. (Against all other bowlers, they combined for 101 runs in 65 balls).
Haris, his hands still in his pockets, doesn't seem too fussed. "It's not that I'm weak against spin. I just haven't played against spin much, but I have shots that give me options against spin, too."
It's now time to head off to the airport, but there's one last thing to do. He turns to that shy, hopeful little girl, and signs her bat next to Babar's signature. Depending on how the upcoming semi-final goes, he can expect to get that marker out for plenty more boys and girls when he touches down in Pakistan.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000