Mohammad Haris was at the crease for only 25 balls against South Africa in Sydney, of which he faced a mere 11. Yet, he did enough to make the world take notice.

To make it to the semi-final, Pakistan needed to win both their matches, against South Africa and Bangladesh – and back Zimbabwe to beat India. However, some things are easier said than done, particularly if your opposition boasts of a cohort of big hitters and a pace attack consisting of Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Wayne Parnell, and Lungi Ngidi, who had undone India not too long ago.

It took Parnell (and South Africa) four balls to strike. Mohammad Rizwan, the top-ranked batter in the world in the format until a day ago, played one on to the stumps. Having scored 52 not out against India and 44 against Zimbabwe at No.3, Shan Masood was the obvious choice as the next man in. Instead, Haris strode out.

This is the second Twenty20 International of Haris’ career. He had opened with Babar Azam – whom he joined in Sydney as well – in his only other match, against England in Lahore just over a month ago. He hit Richard Gleeson for six, but fell two balls later while trying to clear the lone fielder at fine leg. Haris’ three ODIs have – between them – yielded 10 runs. His Twenty20 strike rate – including that one international – stood at 134 before today.

Who, then, is Mohammad Haris, who probably ranks 15th in hype in the 15-member Pakistan squad? Why was he not only picked for this contest but also sent at No.3 to take on one of the fiercest pace attacks in the world?

Haris first rose to prominence in 2019, during two Under-19 ODI series in Sri Lanka and South Africa and the Under-19 Asia Cup. The numbers – 400 runs at 50, strike rate 104 – were good enough to earn him a place in the Under-19 World Cup, where he got a 48-ball 81 against Zimbabwe and a brisk cameo against India. He scored only 131 runs, but they took him only 106 balls.

COVID-19 pushed Cricket into hiatus soon after that World Cup. Once it resumed, Haris was too old for Under-19 cricket and too new for the senior team. Mr Google – a moniker he had earned from his Under-19 days by virtue of his ability to answer any question – had to remain content with playing for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Second XI.

He worked his way up to the First XI, but the breakthrough moment came when Peshawar Zalmi signed him up for the 2021/22 season.

Haris batted five times in that season. He failed in one of these, and got an eight-ball 12 in another. In the other three, he hit 49 in 27 balls, 29 in 17, and 70 in 32. His strike rate (187) was easily the best for Zalmi that season – and the squad consisted of Liam Livingstone, Ben Cutting, Haider Ali, Hazratullah Zazai, Sherfane Rutherford, Shoaib Malik, and Yasir Khan. With a 100-run cut-off, only Tim David of the Multan Sultans scored at a quicker rate.

A performance like that is often good enough to earn a call-up. Haris’ chance came as well, in a Pakistan lineup often characterised by long opening partnerships from Babar and Rizwan, followed by a middle order left with little choice but to hit out. During his PSL stint, Haris had faced a mere 18 balls outside the powerplay; there was little doubt where his strengths lay.

With Masood, a Test opener, also in the squad, there was thus no place for Haris – until Fakhar Zaman was ruled out. Haris was drafted into the squad. Even then, with Masood in the XI, he would probably not have played, but the Pakistan first wicket lasted 37 balls across three matches. That made a solid case for a powerplay hitter at No.3.

Haris played. He walked out when he had virtually the entire powerplay available to him. Parnell hit him on the helmet with the second ball. The next ball he faced was from Rabada, at the other end. The overpitched ball disappeared for six. Rabada retaliated with a bouncer; this one soared for six as well, over fine-leg. The next ball, short and quick, was pulled for four. He cut Parnell for four and scooped Nortje for six.

Nortje trapped him next ball, but Haris had done his bit by then. He had also made a solid case for himself to the team management.

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