Updated: January 4, 2015 11:10:54 am
Prior to the first Test, Brad Haddin had provided a little insight into Ryan Harris’s psyche. One that led to raised eyebrows along with shock and awe in the room. Not to forget bewilderment.
“He was his normal negative self, bowling and asking if he was doing the right thing, asking whether it was coming through good,” Haddin had said.
This was Ryan Harris he was talking about. The same Ryan Harris, who in the past few years, has been the nemesis for opposition worldwide. The same Ryan Harris, who arguably is the best fast bowler in the world, and also has the best strike-rate for any fast bowler who’s donned the Baggy Green — the qualification being a minimum of 100 wickets. The same Ryan Harris that runs through batting line-ups with the same finesse as a surgeon at his operation table. Ask Shikhar Dhawan.
But yes, apparently even he has doubts about his bowling. And yes, Harris actually doesn’t have the same trust in his own outrageous bowling skills as what the rest of Australia does.
The Indian batsmen for one will certainly not concur with that. And they might actually snigger with disbelief if told that Harris actually goes through phases where he seeks out of his teammates’ approval.
In many ways, it said as much about Harris the man as it did about Harris the fast bowler par excellence. Humble, simple and extremely courteous. Except when he has ball in hand. To be honest, he’s a tad un-Aussie like even then. He doesn’t dish out verbals too often. He simply focuses on getting the ball on the right spot. And he does so with the precision of a hired-gun going about his business with little fuss.
He’s someone who speaks his mind in press conferences but at the same time politely apologises whenever he doesn’t have a suitable answer to a journalist’s question. He’s someone who might at times get frustrated at a batsman for missing not edging the ball despite getting beaten repeatedly but still be the first guy to acknowledge an opponent’s success on the field.
When Virat Kohli stormed out and declared that he didn’t respect those in the Aussie camp who didn’t respect him back, it was Harris who tried to diffuse the situation insisting that his team did have all the respect in the world for the feisty Indian batting star. He even looked shocked at the indictment. And it seemed genuine, like almost everything that Harris does on the cricket field, or off it. At the MCG, he finished with figures of 4/70 in 26 overs on a pitch where runs were being scored for fun, and yet sounded as nonchalant as ever about his performance.
That he’s a late bloomer is no secret. Harris was almost 32 by the time he burst on to the international scene. But it’s almost impossible to say that he’s already 35. At times it shows in the way he huffs and puffs on his way back to the outfield late in the day after having run in for the umpteenth time with the same vigour that he showed in the morning.
In Australia, they rave about him being the captain’s delight. The tireless workhorse who will run in all day, and never say never. The guy any captain would give an arm for. The one he will turn to whenever the team desperately needs a dismissal. And more often than not, he has delivered. Not just in this series. But throughout his career. They also call him Rhyno in these parts. And he has charged in like one.
The reason behind his success is the length he bowls. In the two Tests he has played in this series, almost 70 per cent of the deliveries to both right and left handers have pitched on a length that will bother them. They have pitched in the no man’s land that leaves batsmen feeling like castaways. Do they drive? Do they leave? Or do they poke at it and put an end to the relentless inquisition?
Then there is the subtle movement he generates off the wicket, mainly away going but at times it comes in as well. And the fact that he can get the old ball to reverse only adds to his menace. The greatest asset of Harris is how he is always hustling in like his entire life depended on every ball he bowled. It keeps the batsman honest. It keeps the captain charged-up, and it keeps the fans expectant and in anticipation of another wicket.
The only name on everyone’s lips in the build-up to a tour to Australia is Mitchell Johnson. But it’s Harris who’s made the difference.
It’s not surprising then that he’s looked like picking up a wicket every time his captain has gone to him — be it Michael Clarke in Adelaide or Steve Smith at the MCG. And his absence was certainly felt at the Gabba, where India dominated proceedings on the opening day. Dhawan seemed the happiest.
In four innings so far, he’s fallen thrice to Harris. Three of those were off full deliveries that Dhawan had no clue about, while the fourth was off a short of length delivery that surprised the left-hander and had him caught at slip. It’s seemed like all Harris has to do is to show up at the top of the mark for him to account for the Indian opener, like was the case in the second innings at the MCG.
But what really makes Harris a stand-out is his ability to set up wickets at the other end. You just need to look at Johnson’s record when he has had Harris hustling in from the other end. In 17 Tests that the two have bowled together, the fiery left-armer has picked up 96 wickets at 20.72 and a strike-rate of 38.5 with seven five-wicket hauls and two 10-wicket match hauls. Johnson’s average increases by 11 when Harris isn’t around. In the 47 Tests without his pace partner, his 187 wickets have come at 31.49, and he’s taken almost 20 balls more per wicket.
But if you ask Harris, it’s unlikely he will make much of a deal of it. He’ll stay say he’s simply a great foil for Johnson.
“He won’t think he was bowling very good. He had good zip. He had that Ryan Harris zip. I was lucky enough to face him for a good 20 minutes and it was tough work,” is what Haddin had said that day.
In Australia, they just need a reason to go “You beauty.” And for sure they’ve done so every time Harris has run through the opposition in the last 18 months. But you can also imagine Harris going, “Who? Me? Really?”
Where are the green tops?
“We would feel safe with a total of 1200.” It was a statement that received guffaws, even a snort. But somehow you could make out that Ryan Harris wasn’t kidding. He actually meant it. By now, we’re very used to Indian captains and even their bowlers lamenting about the pitches they are offered back home. “Not enough spin”, “not enough bounce” and “not enough grip” being only some of their reasons to whinge. But Harris’s claim wasn’t too far off the mark. It’s simply been that kind of a Test series so far.
How else would you explain the glut of runs in the first three matches so far? This is Australia after all. The land of plenty, and not just in terms of the choice of craft beers. Plenty of bounce, plenty of pace, plenty of wickets and plenty of batsmen getting their reputations shattered. Yet, all we’ve seen is batsmen getting their eye in and scoring big runs, and bowlers sweating it out to catch up with them.
Wickets have come at a premium, at least in the first innings of each game. In all three Tests, Australia have scored over 500 in their first innings, and India have scored at least 400. Not many times has this been achieved Down Under. It’s the first time in almost a decade that three consecutive Tests in Australia have seen scores of 400 or more. For the record, the wickets have come at 47.81 apiece across all first innings so far.
And as it turned out, Steve Smith didn’t really seem keen on declaring at the MCG. Ok, he didn’t set India 1200, but it was still a total that was out of the visitors’ reach. It obviously had a lot to do with the surface on offer. There was a lot of talk at the MCG about how the original surface in Melbourne would crumble to such an extent that batting on the final day would mean facing deliveries that crept only as high as your ankles and those rearing up at your shoulder. But there was none of that when India saved the third Test. If anything, they hardly seemed too flustered by the challenge.
And Harris for one hasn’t taken it lightly. He might not have been part of the Australian squad that got mauled by the Indians on low and slow tracks in the subcontinent. But he still felt the pain of his colleagues as they scratched and swept around in vain as India romped home 4-0. And his major bone of contention was the lack of any home advantage on the wickets provided for them during the ongoing series.
“I’m not saying we should get ridiculously bouncy wickets. But we go to India and get absolute shockers over there, so it’d be nice to get some green tops over here,” he said.
“I don’t think the wickets have been as fast and bouncy. Obviously we’ve got results in two of the Test matches. But again as a bowling group we’re always going to say we want a bit more bounce and grass. That goes without saying. And that’s what we had last year and that’s where he (Johnson) excelled. Not having that there is probably a little bit frustrating,” Harris said with two days to go for the Sydney Test.
The SCG wicket carried a bland look on Saturday, bereft of grass and not very welcoming if you were a fast bowler, especially considering the soaring temperatures in Sydney. And it will be on this surface that Harris & Co will be expected to force a 3-0 outcome in favour of the Australians. And the veteran pacer might have to do so without the company of Johnson who is suffering from hamstring soreness.
“We’ve had two results and nearly got a result in Melbourne. It’s hard to fully criticise the wickets but I must admit it’s been a lot harder than it was last year,” said Harris.
The SCG has gained a reputation of late for assisting the fast bowlers, after having been touted as the only genuine spinners’ paradise in Australia. Harris can only cross his fingers that that’s the case again come Tuesday. Or he can just hope that his team actually scores 1200 at the SCG.
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