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The ‘gamble’ by Haris Rauf and Shaheen Shah Afridi pays off for Welsh Fire

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When Mike Hussey selected Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf for Welsh Fire in the Hundred draught, he referred to it as a “gamble.” Despite the uncertainty surrounding Pakistan’s schedule at the moment, Afridi and Rauf, who have combined to take eight wickets through the first three matches, will be available for six of the group’s eight games.

Afridi was the top wicket-taker in the first week of the men’s Hundred after striking with his first two deliveries in Fire red, trapping Phil Salt and Laurie Evans lbw with two of his signature inswinging yorkers. In a close loss on Friday night, Rauf, the competition’s fastest bowler, destroyed the centre of the Southern Brave’s lineup.

Rauf tells ESPNcricinfo, “Alhamdulillah, I have had good rhythm since we started in Cardiff.” “I hope to put in good performances for the remainder of the tournament.” He jokes that he’ll try to accelerate this week to speeds of at least 150 kph. “Inshallah! I’ll give the team my all.

They have done well together. “Me and Haris enjoy bowling together, as a partnership,” Afridi continues. “We have been playing together since 2018 and try to give our best effort for every team we play for.” Rauf claims that playing with a close friend makes him feel “very relaxed” and enables him to give his best performance.

Their partnership allowed Lahore Qalandars, the underdogs of the Pakistan Super League’s early seasons who won four straight wooden spoons, become two-time champions. They originally played together for that team. Welsh Fire are hoping to have a similar impact on their own fortunes after dropping all eight of their games the previous season.

“Lahore Qalandars lost a lot in the first four or five years,” adds Afridi, “but we have won back-to-back finals in the last two.” To perform well for this squad is the reason we are here, and so far, so good. Rauf continues, “We all have faith in one another. That is the most crucial factor in every league in the world: how can a positive environment be created for the players?

They have loved working with Hussey, who took over as coach for Gary Kirsten during the winter and has already had a successful start to the season with three wins, a tight loss, and a tie at The Oval on Sunday. “Hussey is a very good man,” Afridi claims. “He was one of our favourite players when he represented Australia. Working with him is fun for us.”

They will face Shadab Khan, a teammate from Pakistan who is making his Hundred debut after having to cancel contracts in the prior two seasons due to international obligations, on Thursday. On Monday night, Shadab made his Birmingham Phoenix debut, and he is looking forward to facing some recognisable opponents.

“You tease each other all year about it when you play against your friends and compete against each other,” adds Shadab. Because they defeated me in the PSL, “They’re my close friends, so I want to beat them.” He clarifies that his approach with the bat is straightforward: “Whack them for sixes, bro.”

The ECB has made it plain that the Hundred is a component of its plan to interact with South Asian cricket supporters residing in the UK. “There are so many Asian groups in the UK,” Shadab explains, “and there are so many Pakistanis living here in Birmingham.

“Three players from Pakistan are playing tomorrow [Thursday], so hopefully the fans will come with their flags,” he continues. “It’s a wonderful feeling when people from Pakistani communities come to support you.”

Nevertheless, Pakistani athletes receive excellent support in England, regardless of the sport. Afridi recalls, “Hassan [Ali] was playing for Birmingham, and I was playing for Notts [in the T20 Blast]. They consistently show up and help us. Every time we see our supporters, we are always excited. Hopefully, we impress them.

Next week, all three players will depart from the UK to travel to Sri Lanka for Pakistan’s ODI series against Afghanistan as part of their preparations for the Asia Cup and the World Cup that will follow. We are gradually increasing our burden, adds Afridi. “It won’t be easy in Sri Lanka because of the different weather, but hopefully we’ll do very well in the Asia Cup and World Cup.”

Afridi and Rauf will be replaced at Welsh Fire by Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry for the remainder of the group stage and, if they advance, the knockout stage. Hussey’s “gamble” on Pakistan’s best quicks will have been successful if they travel to Sri Lanka with Fire in the top three.

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