At his first press conference since being appointed to the role, Wahab announced Pakistan’s 18-member squad, but almost instantly, shifted focus towards Rauf’s non-selection, accusing the player of going back on his word. It is a claim that, a source close to Rauf told ESPNcricinfo, the player vehemently denies.”We spoke to Haris Rauf for this tour,” Wahab said. “When we spoke to him two days ago, he gave his consent to play Test cricket for Pakistan. But last night he changed his mind, and now he doesn’t want to be part of this Test series. I’m revealing this because we should be honest with officials, team-mates, and the public. We spoke to Haris and he was worried about his body and fitness, as well as his workload. Mohammad Hafeez and I sat with him and tried to facilitate him in every way. We told him even if he didn’t perform well there, we would accept it.
“Our physio spoke to him and said he wouldn’t expect any issue or injury. Of course there’s fatigue, but we were sure we could have managed that very well. But he pulled out at the last moment and he made himself unavailable. I think this will hurt Pakistan cricket.”
ESPNcricinfo understands that Rauf views his exchange with Wahab very differently. A source close to the player revealed that Rauf had never committed to playing the Test matches in Australia, and confirmed his non-availability the previous night. He told Wahab he hadn’t played much red-ball cricket in the build-up, and wanted to work on his white-ball game as well as his fitness.
Wahab also mentioned about the other talking points around the selection of the first Pakistan squad since Babar Azam quit captaincy, but repeatedly found himself drawing back towards Rauf.
“I just told you a short version of what Haris and I spoke about,” he said. “We spoke to the captain and coach, and we said we view Haris Rauf as an impact bowler. We weren’t demanding more than 10-12 overs a day. The only issue is when you say you’re available for Pakistan, especially at a time when our three main high-pace bowlers, who can bowl over 140 [kph] other than Haris are unavailable. At some point, you need to sacrifice to play for your country. Haris was committed to us, and pulled out after two days.”
That Rauf’s absence provoked such a strong reaction is something of a surprise for cricketing reasons, too. Rauf has only ever played one Test match, the first against England in Rawalpindi last year. He got injured after bowling 13 overs in the first innings, and did not bowl thereafter. He was not a part of Pakistan’s squad for the away series in Sri Lanka, which Pakistan won 2-0. But the conditions in Australia, coupled with the unavailability of Naseem Shah and Ihsanullah, means Wahab appears to have felt strongly about having Rauf on tour.
“I’ve played with most of these boys and I have a great relationship with them,” Wahab said. “But when it comes to professionalism, we have to look at what’s best for Pakistan. Haris was unavailable after the England series and not a part of any other Test series. When you are a centrally contracted player, it is your duty to serve Pakistan. I’m not disappointed, but the same players will later complain they weren’t given the opportunity, and people will ask why such and such player wasn’t selected.”
Wahab did say it wouldn’t affect his inclusion in Pakistan’s T20I and ODI sides, though, but that he would “respect and value the players who want to be a part of red-ball cricket. Playing red-ball cricket makes you a better player.”
The conflict between player and selector sets up a fascinating showdown ahead of the Big Bash League in Australia. Rauf is considered a marquee player for the Melbourne Stars. The league starts on December 13 and runs until February 4, overlapping with all three Tests in Australia, and would have hindered his availability had he been a part of the Pakistan squad.
However, ESPNcricinfo also understands there is no guarantee of the PCB issuing a No-Objection Certificate for Rauf to play the BBL while relations between the chief selector and Rauf remain strained. Pakistan’s centrally contracted players did sign recent contracts that saw the PCB agree to permitting players to take part in two foreign T20 leagues, but how that plays out in practice remains to be seen.