AFTER a humiliating defeat at Dunedin, Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed had hinted at making changes in the side when he said the team management will come up with the best eleven during a post-match press conference.

But while there weren't many changes in the team on Tuesday, the batting was shuffled a bit with young all-rounder Faheem Ashraf sent to open the innings while Hasan Ali was handed the new ball. To Pakistan’s dismay, though, both the plans backfired.

However, there was one change in the side, a major one, that handsomely paid off, and that was the induction of talented all-rounder Haris Sohail for senior pro Azhar Ali who had averaged a poor four in the first three one-dayers.

In the earlier games too, there were calls to play Haris due to his sound batting and the ability to chip in with crucial wickets in the middle-overs. But for some reason, Pakistan preferred Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez in the middle-order which naturally blocked the left-hander’s entry.

With the series lost and Pakistan desperate to save face, Sohail returned to the Pakistan’s ODI side after nearly three years on Tuesday and was quick to make the team management realise that they had been wrong in keeping him on the bench for the past two weeks.

Pakistan’s innings begun the way it had in the first three matches with New Zealand snapping up two quick wickets in the first five overs. The visitors lost Ashraf and Babar Azam in 4.4 overs with only 11 runs on board. The tourists clearly looked in danger of yet another disastrous outing. In walked Haris and was quick to make an impression with a few confident strokes.

A 50-run partnership off 47 balls for the third-wicket between Fakhar Zaman and Sohail put Pakistan in control of the proceedings for the first time in the series. Sohail drove anything full with a straight blade and cut the teasing shorter-balls with authority. He hit four fours and struck a gigantic six off Mitchell Santner while dancing down the wicket to push the Kiwi bowlers on the back foot.

Soon he completed his eighth fifty in ODIs and his 74-ball stay at the crease had 31 scoring shots. His assuring presence on the other end not only allowed Fakhar to free his arms regularly but also gave a platform to Sarfraz and Mohammad Hafeez to score blistering half-centuries down the order and help Pakistan post a decent total.

And Haris had more to offer. He returned with decent figures of one for 29 in his six overs, picking up the crucial wicket of New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, who has a hundred and a fifty to his name in the series so far. Like all the other Pakistan bowlers, Haris’ bowling figures would have been much better had the Kiwis not handed Colin de Grandhomme the comeback.

Haris had been out of the Pakistan squad since the historic tour of Zimbabwe to Pakistan in May 2015 due to an ankle injury. He donned the Pakistan cap for the first time after his recovery in September last year during the first of the two-match Test series against Sri Lanka.

His selection over Fawad Alam in the Test side in the post Misbah-Younis era had surprised many. Some were outraged. Haris had not played a first-class match since the 2013-14 season and Fawad had been piling runs at the first-class level since forever.

But when he resumed his career with a score of 76, the noises began to fade away. They vanished completely when he came out to bat in the fourth innings with Pakistan four down for a mere 32 during his side’s 136-run chase. He made 34 off 69 balls which was the highest score in an innings which had only three scores in the double-digits.

In both games, however, Haris had managed to delay the inevitable, but there have been occasions where his heroics have hauled Pakistan out of crisis. Like the day he scored his maiden ODI fifty.

Pakistan were struggling at 52 for 4 in their pursuit of New Zealand’s 247 in the first of the five-match series in the United Arab Emirates in December 2014. Haris, brought into the side in place of Fawad, rescued Pakistan with a well-crafted 85 not out off 109 balls and put up a match-winning 110-run partnership with Shahid Afridi, who scored 61 from 51 balls.

As Haris drove back Tim Southee’s fuller delivery for a four down the ground on Tuesday, I wondered how delighted he must have been. To know the art of standing out when your team is yearning for an inspiration.

Leaving out Haris, who averages 43.36 in 23 matches without a century to his name, from the playing XI in conditions where Pakistan have a history of losses was a blunder indeed.

Haris realised it well and came good, as if he was just waiting for an opportunity to prove himself, yet again.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2018

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