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Woodhill: 'Haris' four overs could determine the outcome of India-Pakistan match'

Rauf, who plays for Melbourne Stars in the BBL, has more experience at the MCG than any other bowler on either side

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
The MCG can be an uncomfortable cauldron for most visiting cricketers, but it will feel like home for Haris Rauf.
When Pakistan and India face off in Sunday's blockbuster, no bowler on either side will have more T20 experience at the venue than Rauf.
His rise from a Lahore Qalandars project player, to playing club cricket in Sydney and Hobart, to starring in the BBL for Melbourne Stars and then bursting into international scene has been quite extraordinary.
It was his first season with Stars in 2019-20 that set him on the path to becoming one of the best death bowlers in T20 cricket. Since the start of 2020, no bowler has taken more wickets in the death overs in T20Is than Rauf's 37. One man who was influential in getting him to Stars was their former List Manager Trent Woodhill, who believes Rauf's MCG experience could hold the key to the outcome of the Pakistan-India match.
"I think Haris' experience at the MCG makes Pakistan favourites," Woodhill told ESPNcricinfo. "I think because [Jasprit] Bumrah is out, that's a massive loss for India. And they are similar types of bowlers at the MCG where that slower ball grips and yorkers are hard to get under. I know it's early in the season so things might be a little bit different. But I think the four overs from Haris probably determines the outcome of the game."
It's hard to argue with the numbers. In seven T20s at the MCG, he has 11 wickets at a strike rate of 13.6 and an economy rate of 6.92. He took a hat-trick in his first game there for Stars, against Sydney Thunder. Stars couldn't believe their luck when he landed in their lap following a spate of injuries and some quick thinking from then-general manager Nick Cummins, coach David Hussey and Woodhill. But what Stars didn't expect was how well he would be suited to the MCG pitch itself.
"There are guys who are quick and then there are guys like Haris who have that different arm action," Woodhill said. "Talking to batters, he is hard to pick up. And not only that, because he has got a good slower ball with the same arm action, if you want to play early to deal with the tailing ball and the pace, you could be well early and then you bring the stumps into play because you're already through the shot and the slower ball has got you.
"I think his action and speed and height really suit the MCG."
There is no better example of that deception than his BBL hat-trick. He knocked over both Matthew Gilkes and Callum Ferguson with slower balls before Daniel Sams set up for the slower ball deep in his crease and got beaten for pace to be trapped lbw.
Rauf's success at the death at the MCG belies conventional wisdom. Most pace bowlers in the death overs tend to use the up-and-down nature of the drop-in surface and the huge square boundaries to their advantage. Back-of-a-length and slower short balls are commonplace in the death overs there with full balls at risk of being clubbed over the short straight boundaries.
"He shared quite a bit of information with the bowlers and batters as well. The way he is improving as a bowler, leading the group, the way he didn't let us feel Shaheen's absence, the way he has done in all situations, that will be helpful for us"
Babar Azam
But Rauf has no such fear. Woodhill compared him to an elite closer in baseball who enters in the late innings to get the best hitters out by fighting fire with fire.
"I reckon he is probably the closest we have seen to a baseball closer in the BBL," Woodhill said. "[Lasith] Malinga obviously was outstanding talent there also but he swings that new ball.
"It felt like when Haris was coming at the 'G in that patch, it was just lights out. You just knew that it was going to be really tough to get the ball away, especially in front of square and then good luck trying to ramp him too.
"He's not going to go for a lot of runs in those death overs because he is going to keep it really simple. He's not going to change it up. You know you're going to get a bouncer. You just don't know when you're going to get that bouncer. You know you're going to get stump yorkers. It's very rare he is going to go wide yorker."
But Woodhill noted that it would be a step up in class bowling to India's lower middle order who would play him differently to the Australians in the BBL. Conditions in October may also be different to Rauf's experience in December and January. The surfaces are unlikely to be as dry as they are in the BBL and his slower balls may not grip and bounce as awkwardly at the death.
"It'll be interesting to see how much he goes to that against India who are probably No. 1, with England No. 2, at just staying still and hitting the dead [slower] ball," Woodhill said. "The Australians would play it differently. The Australians will move around a bit and they might be happy with multiple twos. India, I don't think they'll be thinking two straight up or single. They'll be looking at that dead-ball hit and that's where I think Haris becomes just so valuable to Pakistan."
Rauf's match-up with Hardik Pandya could be vital. He removed him with a slower ball in the T20 World Cup last year in Dubai and conceded just 25 in four overs. But Hardik got his revenge in the Asia Cup striking three boundaries in Rauf's 19th over to close out the chase in the group match.
His captain Babar Azam revealed Rauf has been both a vital resource in Pakistan's preparations for the MCG and a vital cog in their attack, particularly with the recent absence of Shaheen Shah Afridi.
"He shared quite a bit of information with the bowlers and batters as well," Babar said. "The way he is improving as a bowler, leading the group, the way he didn't let us feel Shaheen's absence, the way he has done in all situations, that will be helpful for us."
One thing is for certain, Rauf will revel in wearing green at the MCG once again.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo