T20 World Cup: Ambala man recalls kadha chai bonding with Hobart roommate Haris Rauf, Pakistan’s 150 kmph speedster

Three years ago when Haris Rauf moved to Hobart as part of an exchange programme between Pakistan Super League’s Qalandars and the Hurricanes, the Rawalpindi-born paceman found a friend in Haryana-born Mayank Gupta

A beautiful friendship and lots of kadha chai brewed over the few weeks that Ambala’s Mayank Gupta spent as a roommate with Pakistani pacer Haris Rauf in December 2019 in the Australian city of Hobart, long before the bowler became a big name. When India meets Pakistan in their opening T20 World Cup game in Melbourne Sunday, far away in Ambala (Haryana), Gupta might find himself in two minds on whom to support. He wants India to win, but at the same time he will instinctively hope that his friend Haris Rauf does well.

In the story of the rise of one of Pakistan’s sensational pacers, Rauf, there was a friendly Indian ally, egging him on when the two shared accommodation in Australia. “We used to have good food. He used to make very good kadha (herbal tea) and he made it every day, till the time he stayed in my place. He always used to tell me to try kadha and it’s good for my health. Till the time he stayed with me, he made sure I drank herbal tea with him,” Gupta recalls.

Back then, Gupta would help his brother-in-law and cricketer Loveleen Gupta run his service station’s business in Hobart. The Pakistani pacer, hitherto unknown to international cricket, was still to become a household name in Pakistan. But Gupta says he knew that one day the boy would play for his national team, right after their first animated chat on tape-ball cricket stretched into long hours.

Their story began when Gupta’s friend Farzan Raja, a player from Lahore Qalandars’ support team, came to Gupta’s petrol station one day and requested if he could take in a young Pakistani pacer playing club cricket for Glenorchy CC in Tasmania, till he could find long-time accommodation. Rauf was flown to Australia as part of an exchange programme between Pakistan Super League’s Qalandars and Hobart Hurricanes.

A shoe of Haris Rauf from his Hobart Hurricane days, which has the words #H150 stitched into it. It was Rauf’s way of motivating himself to bowl over 150kmph regularly. (Special arrangement)

Somehow Rauf couldn’t find a place to live in the city where he was parked to polish his skills for the next few weeks. Till the time Simon Stebbings, Director of Glenorchy, found accommodation, Raja wanted Rauf to stay at Gupta’s house, initially only for a few hours.

“Later in the day, Simon called me and he said I need a small favour. He asked if it was possible for me to allow Haris to stay at my place for two-three days. I was fair. I said, ‘See Simon, it is not my place, it is my brother-in-law’s place. I’m also staying at his place, so I can’t give permission. If you could drop Loveleen a message, that would be great’. So Simon dropped a text and then Loveleen called me and asked for all the details, and said he had no issues,” Gupta told The Indian Express.

He recalls how he asked Rauf questions zooming in his head about fast bowling. The Pakistani pacer answered patiently. “He told me that he started with tape ball tournaments, and he loved to play only with tape ball. He didn’t have trust in leather balls. He was well known with the tape ball. He had accompanied a friend for the Lahore Qalandars trial, and then he just tried his hand with the leather ball. At that time I think he hit a speed of around 140-145, and it was only then that Lahore Qalandars saw him as a talent. And they invited him to train with them.”

Being the same age also helped. Gupta stressed how ever since the start, he was professional about his cricket and followed a stick fitness regime, checking calories in the food he ate.

Gupta used to work in the day but at nights, the Haryana-born Gupta and Rawalpindi-born Rauf would sit and chat about life. From food to cricket, the conversations helped build a bond. The kadha chai would energise both and crackle up conversations about home. “I told him, ‘You can dispose of all this energy in the game, but how am I supposed to do that, why are you making me drink this hot beverage,” Gupta, who now works at Amazon, recalls.

Such had been his focus that Rauf never ate junk food, though his love for Nando’s grew in Hobart and he craved for chicken every day. Gupta would be asked each evening: “Shall we go to Nando’s?”. Another Sunday, when Gupta was a player short for practice games at their club KLM Kings, Rauf asked if he could play. Simon had strictly stated Rauf won’t bowl in such games. Reason: his sheer pace. “He asked me, ‘Mayank bhai, if I’m not able to bowl, then I will open the batting. He did that and hit the first ball for four. The opponents got curious on how we fielded a PSL player in the game that day,” Gupta laughs.

He was with Rauf when the latter got a call from Melbourne Stars asking them whether he was interested in joining them in the Big Bash League. He was in two minds whether to go for Melbourne Stars or Hobart Hurricanes. Rauf picked Melbourne and his debut performance in Australia’s BBL, which saw him take five wickets against Hobarts, changed things.

“He always wanted to play for the Pakistan national team. The route he took worked for him. He got a call only after he played in Big Bash. He called me when he got the call to play for Pakistan too. Later, he came back to play for Melbourne,” Gupta said. The tension between two countries never came in the way of their friendship.

Gupta recalled how one day, Rauf told him that if he ever got a chance, come to Pakistan. “We have a great bonding. He wants to come to my house in India one day and he says if I come to Pakistan, I should come to his house. I always joke about what if the country hadn’t been divided. We would have got some of the best talent. I am happy with what he has achieved and it’s always good to see someone you know doing so well.”

On Sunday, Gupta will be glued to his TV set to see his friend who used to scribble #H150 (Haris 150kmph) on his shoe. He wants him to do well, but he also wants India to win.

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