It's June 27, 2019, and Pakistan has just beaten New Zealand to keep their semi-final hopes alive. Fans around the world mostly remember this match for Babar Azam's all-time great innings but another unsung hero of the chase was Haris Sohail - who gave perfect impetus to the innings and complimented his teammate at the other end. To many, it will come as a surprise but Sohail's strike rate was way higher than Babar's.
Three days before that, the left-hander had scored a quintessential 89 off just against South Africa to take Pakistan to a formidable total at the home of cricket. Surely, Haris has nailed his place in Pakistan's middle order - or so everyone thought it to be. Three years down the line Haris hasn't featured for Pakistan since October 2020.
Rated as one of the finest talents in the country, Haris made his ODI debut for Pakistan against West Indies in 2013. His entry into the international arena was delayed twice due to a recurring ankle injury; The left-hander had to return from tour of South Africa in February 2013. Prior to that, he nearly missed the Pakistan tour to India with the same problem. With a series of good performances in a time when Pakistan's white-ball side had regressed massively, Haris had shown he is someone to look for in the future.
In July 2015, during the Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka, Sohail sustained a knee injury during training. At the time, not even Haris had an idea how serious it was. The left-hander rehabbed for four months before going into an operation in UAE in December 2015. The post-operation rehab didn't go as per plan which aggravated the problem with many thinking his career was done. The left-hander himself has accepted that there were voices in his head to quit.
Somehow, he mustered up every ounce of the mental and physical strength he had left and traveled to England to work with Dr. Zafar Iqbal. Following the end of his rehabilitation program, he returned to Pakistan. For the next year and a half, it was all about getting the body ready to embrace the workload of international cricket Things were so tough that he didn't pick a bat for almost a year.
In October 2017, Sohail was selected for Pakistan's first Test assignment after the Mis-You era and delivered the goods straight away. The long-awaited comeback was complete.
Speaking on his return, Haris said, "The last two years were very difficult. I struggled a lot. It was that kind of injury. Things weren't right for me. That time, only I know how much I struggled. I heard many things [about my career ending]. But my goal was only one thing - to return."
Since then, he has featured in 20 ODIs for the country scoring seven half-centuries and two-tons - both coming against Australia in 2019.
Haris last represented Pakistan in October 2020 against Zimbabwe and scored 71. He was subsequently dropped from the Test squad after Pakistan's poor show in New Zealand. His last competitive game was in the Quaid -e Azam trophy for Balochistan in November 2021 as he was sidelined from the team after a scuffle with head coach Faisal Iqbal.
Since the last 50-over World Cup, Pakistan has featured in only 14 matches - a small sample size but one thing is pretty evident they lack firepower in the middle order. Countless times, the middle order has been found wanting to utilise the second Powerplay from overs 11-40. In the last year or so, Pakistan has given chances to Mohammad Rizwan and Saud Shakeel have been preferred in number 4 and 5. Despite Rizwan's incredible improvement in the game he still hasn't been able to produce the goods while Shakeel has looked like a fish out of water.
Going back to Haris' innings in the World Cup 2019 against South Africa and New Zealand. Both innings came at a time when Pakistan needed some impetus. Against the Proteas, the green shirts were 143-3 in the 30th over when the left-hander came to bat and by the time he was done, Pakistan had added 164 runs in the last 20 to reach an insurmountable 308 in 50 overs. Sohail batter at a strike rate of 150.84 - highest for any Pakistan batter in that tournament. Three days later, he produced quintessential innings while chasing on a tough spinning track.
With World Cup 2023 just 17 months away, and limited games available, Pakistan is running out of time to find viable options at these crucial numbers and someone like Haris Sohail who averages 46.82 in ODIs and is equally adept in playing pace and spin could be the answer to the middle order conundrum. Perhaps it is high time for Babar Azam and the selection committee to sit down and seriously start thinking about Haris Sohail.