Five minutes into his innings and there could only be bafflement. Him? Of these gifts? Not picked? Why? In a snapshot, the reasons may have appeared viable: a large-looking, accountant-shaped, left-hander (who is far smaller in person) surrounded by South African athletic specimens. In fable, a slow-moving batsman, out of step in the age of T20 monster hitters.
In the moving feast that was Haris Sohail's match-winning innings for Pakistan and a possible turner of the tide for their 2019 World Cup campaign, the reasons for his not being a regular in the line-up, will always remain inexplicable.
Watch on Hotstar (USA only) : Highlights of Pakistan's incredible win
But never mind his absence. Haris' presence at Lord's on Sunday could not be denied and will not be forgotten. For Pakistan, with the stinging public response following a heavy defeat to India, there was no other option but to play the man they had not played in their last three full matches and make him their final middle-order roll of the dice. For the man himself, there was no better time to show the muggles what wizardry means. When Pakistan needed some magic to stay relevant and alive in this World Cup, it was Haris who began the spell.
Watch on Hotstar (India only) - Highlights of Haris Sohail's innings
At Lord's on Sunday, in a match Pakistan could not lose, he played an innings that it is being said belonged to an alter-ego - 89 off 59 balls (SR@150), the highest by a Pakistani batsman in this World Cup. Haris has never played at this tempo, faithful watchers of Pakistan batting say, and it took his team to a total that eventually went beyond sufficient. On the back of rage and impatience-infused spells from Pakistan's two seasoned fast bowlers, 308 became insurmountable.
Normally Haris moves almost reluctantly between wickets, a tribute almost to the spirit of Inzy, currently chief selector. Now Haris was the Big Ship himself going at a rate of sizeable knots, taking the flotilla of minor vessels with him. When he came in to bat, Pakistan had 20 overs more to go and weren't creaking beyond under five an over. When he left, off the second-last ball of the innings, they had scored 164 in 20, the major chunk of which came from Haris' 89. In his 50-run partnership with Imad Wasim, Haris' able companion scored eight.
He had arrived when Pakistan's top order had lapsed into one of its self-destruct modes, Hafeez gone in the 30th, the wicket hard to score off with getting beyond five an over a struggle. Haris is not a conventional No.5, having last played in that position two years ago before being planted deeper into the line-up once again in May in an ODI against England. Haris is a bit of a spiritualist, calling himself a simple man with simple plans, his simple on the Sunday turned out to be sublime.
To the neutral viewer, Haris's innings was a shot-spewing response to everyone who may have doubted his abilities. Or believed the guff that he could be left out of the team in exchange for the rusty Shoaib Malik on grounds of this being the veteran's "last World Cup". For those who had never seen him bat, other than on television which in any case dulls the sense of speed and delicacy, Haris live becomes a magical mystery tour. There is his form-changing bat which can be - depending on the bowler, ball and field - scalpel, feather or bludgeon, the tool with which he uses the field, moves the fielders and seeks gaps. Then there is his baffling contradictory movement: heavy footed on the run, balletic when stepping into position to play his shots.
An ESPNCricinfo stats breakdown of the innings puts "steered" down as Haris's productive shot. It doesn't describe the precision of his placement, the delicacy of the bat's downswing and the perfection in its timing. The word does not reveal how there is a protractor being moved through the field in his mind, which calculates the angles through which to find the gaps where those 'steers' can go.
Off his third ball, Haris leaned back and chose to cut a ball off Aiden Markram so late that clocks stopped to protest at the temerity; it was then helpfully guided down to third man for a 3. Against Kagiso Rabada, the wrists moved, the bat floated through the air, opened its face and sent the ball through the covers. A straight drive down the ground three balls later against Rabada, scorches the field, a six over point and the crack off the bat is audible over the crowd. Against Imran Tahir, the most effective of South Africa's bowlers, comes a confection of a cover drive against the spin, between two off-side fielders. Haris is doing to South Africa what Arthur Ashe had said John McEnroe did to his opponents: "It's slice here, nick here, cut over here, pretty soon you've got blood all over… …and you've bleeding to death."
This wasn't an easy wicket to bat on, Haris said later, and the score that was being treated as par was between 280-290. With Babar Azam, who turned the strike over to the man in the mood, once the 50 partnership had been crossed, Haris said they had felt in control: "We decided to stay till the end, keep our wicket and let the guys at the bottom come to do their hitting." Except it was Haris who had stayed on doing the hitting, even showing that he was capable of an uncultured slog or two.
Later, he was to generously say he had understood the reason for his omission, difficult as it had been. "They were looking for the right combinations which would be better for the team and for Pakistan." His vociferous blade-clutching, bat-waving celebration of his 50 to all corners before an adoring public told another story. There is another piece of another amazement to be found in the innings: Haris's is the joint-highest by a Pakistani middle-order batsman in the World Cup since Javed Miandad's versus Zimbabwe in 1992.
Coach Micky Arthur showered superlatives on Haris, calling his 89 "one of the all-time brilliant innings that I've seen," and "as good a match winning performance as any as you will ever see". To which the first response of everyone at Lord's would be, "what else on earth was being waited for?"
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo