In December last year, news emerged that Pakistan’s talented batsman, Haris Sohail, might have a rather tragic end to his cricketing career after an unsuccessful knee operation.
“It is sad news that Sohail’s knee operation last year was not successful. The PCB Chairman has now sent him to London for examinations but the picture is not very good about his future”, sources had revealed at the time.
The operation itself was undergone in 2015, in Dubai, after he had impressed in Pakistan limited-overs colours in 20 odd One Day Internationals. The southpaw was asked to go through with the operation on the advice of the Pakistan Cricket Board’s medical panel but unfortunately, it seemed like the surgery wasn’t quite successful as he complained of pain.
But soon enough, the left-hander squashed all such rumours by stating that he was fine and ready to resume training. “People have been saying that I have not recovered from the injury but if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here in Pakistan,” the middle-order batsman said. ”The injury has healed and all I need now is to train, run and get fit.”
However, doubts remained about his match fitness for five-day cricket since he hadn’t played a single First-class match since January, 2014. This was one major reason behind the uproar when Haris Sohail was picked in the Pakistan Test squad last week to face Sri Lanka in Dubai. The omission of Fawad Alam, a prolific run-scorer and outstanding batsman, in favour of Sohail was heavily criticised by media and public.
Alam might still deserve a place in that Pakistan middle-order devoid of big names like Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. But after Sunday, Sohail might too. “I have been thinking of both Usman [Usman Salahuddin] and Haris [Haris Sohail] over the last few series, envisaging the situation after seniors [retired]. Both have done well. Usman has done well as a middle-order batsman while Harris could have made it into the side in 2015 but was injured. So the idea is to give our youngsters an opportunity in our own conditions rather than playing them in away series. This will increase their confidence and both have the potential to fill in for Younis and Misbah”, Inzamam-ul-Haq, chief selector, had said about the squad selection.
There is no doubting Sohail’s talent. He is among the finest in the country and with Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq hanging up their boots, Pakistan need their young guns to step up. This series, as Inzamam stated, was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for tougher assignments in the future. But for Sohail, whose selection itself was debated all over the country, this was a test by fire. He made his Test debut, and return to First-class cricket after three long years, at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi against Sri Lanka on September 28.
He showed he meant business when he turned up with the ball, rolling his left arm over, and nearly trapped Dilruwan Perera leg before wicket, only to see the decision being overturned on review. But Haris returned to grab the wicket, through another leg before wicket, and unveiled his intentions to grab the opportunity that unexpectedly came his way.
— Saj Sadiq (@Saj_PakPassion) October 1, 2017
But his innocuous left-arm spin bowling wasn’t the reason why he was in the Pakistan Test squad. He was here to fill a Misbah-sized void in the Pakistan middle-order. He might get the whole series to cement down his spot, but after more than 40 months away from the game, Sohail was impatient to grab his chances.
And he didn’t have to wait long before he got one. In his very first Test innings, he walked to the middle with Pakistan on 266/4. He had the stable Azhar Ali for company early on but soon lost him and a series of other partners. At 340/8, a lead looked rather unlikely for Pakistan with Sri Lanka’s 419 appearing quite a distance away.
But Sohail, on 32 off 82 balls, uncertain and fidgety at times, yet oozing in talent, chose the moment to stamp his presence in the game. In the company of Hasan Ali, Sohail played some screaming shots in between displaying impeccable defence as Pakistan started to climb their way to Sri Lanka’s 419.
That he targeted Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka’s most experienced and best bowler up until then, shows the kind of confidence Sohail has in his game. A scorching cover drive off the veteran spinner followed by a stepped out six over long-on in the next over.
Notable Pakistan batsmen to hit FOUR on the very first ball of Test career: Haris Sohail (today), Shan Masood, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi.
— Mazher Arshad (@MazherArshad) October 1, 2017
Hasan Ali took a cue from the debutant and nailed some wonderful shots himself. If Sri Lanka though Ali’s wicket would stop Pakistan’s progress, they were mistaken. Sohail continued to torment them with his undying spirit and temperament. He wasn’t reluctant to bring Abbas on strike but ensured he had a word or two with the no.11 frequently. The intent was written into his mind every over.
When worries of being bogged down crept up, Sohail immediately rubbished all such notions with an excellent loft for six off Dilruwan Perera over long-off. He moved around in the crease to out the Lankan bowlers under pressure and helped Pakistan ease into the lead with a gorgeously timed back-foot drive. He eventually found a top edge off the new cherry to depart for 76 but not before he had given Pakistan a psychological advantage with a three-run lead.
82 runs had been looted by the final two pairs and Sohail had showcased maturity and composure in his very first innings. He did not look to take everything apart just because Pakistan were stuck in a rut, instead steadied the ship and guided the tail to transfer the pressure back to the opposition.
A 76 in a Test match might seem quite ordinary, even when considering the fact that Sohail was on his debut and playing First-class cricket after three years on a baked, flat wicket.
But the sheer temperament, serenity and poise he displayed with Pakistan running out of experience in the middle-order is something to be admired. For a team that boasts of a plethora of flamboyant cricketers, a mix of flair and repose is a rare combination and Haris Sohail has that in plenty. He has made the right step towards resurrecting what looked like a downward spiralling First-class career. There is little to suggest that he wouldn’t kick on from here.