India v South Africa, 1st Test, Nagpur, 4th day February 9, 2010

Harris moves from facilitator to lead artist

N Hunter
The man who has been a facilitator to the fast bowlers today stepped up and made himself count

"Maybe there's a quarter piece of wood on the shoulder," says Paul Harris when asked if there's a chip on his shoulder for being perceived as an ordinary slow bowler. Harris is a master at self deprecation so there's no wonder he cites perception as one of the reasons behind his success.

Thus it did not matter to him that, two days into the Indian tour, he was the most expensive South African bowler in the warm-up game in Nagpur - where he condeded 71 runs in 12 wicketless overs - which ended three days prior to the first Test. Considering his returns were thin in the recently concluded home series against England, where he was dropped for the series-levelling victory at the Wanderers, doubts persisted about his place in the team in the crucial Nagpur game.

On the eve of the match Harris received a shot of confidence from his captain Graeme Smith, who said he remained his go-to spinner. Harris, a surfer by nature, did not need any further motivation and set himself up to ride an Indian wave.

Though Dale Steyn had already swamped the Indians in the first innings, Harris lent an additional heft to crush the hosts' hopes with the key wicket of MS Dhoni immediately after tea on the third afternoon. That wicket proved a turning point for Harris, who would prove to be a key factor once again to stem India's fightback on a weary pitch in the second dig.

The fast bowlers had left enough footprints to aggravate the rough, and Harris did not waste much time bowling around the stumps. His job for the rest of the afternoon was to pitch the ball on the dented area and keep the Indians shackled. An advantage Harris has is that with his 6'2" height, he can release the ball confidently and then pitch it accurately. Like a conveyor belt, Harris kept walking back to his bowling mark, returned to the bowling crease few seconds later and kept pitching it into the rough while challenging the batsmen and simultaneously choking the run flow. Even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni did not get enough breathing space to steal runs as Smith set a close ring of fielders around the bat.

Throughout his 38-over spell in the second innings Harris' sole intention was to attack the batsmen with a line that was either leg stump or behind the legs. Normally such a strategy would be termed as negative but in the existing circumstances it was positive intent and nothing else. After Dhoni's freakish dismissal yesterday, where the delivery jumped after pitching in the rough to take the edge off a limp bat, the Indians today were more circumspect and avoided taking an aggressive route. In the process they only played into the hands of Harris, who had tailored the situation to perfection.

Only when Harbhajan Singh came on and used the long handle did Harris have to fall back on plan B to curtail the run flow. Dhoni admitted later that it was really difficult to charge Harris. "He is not a big turner of the ball but some of his deliveries after pitching on the rough go straight. [In Kolkata'," he said. "We will try to play different strokes, like sweep shots. We can't just score 50-odd runs off a spinner who is bowling nearly 30 overs."

At one stage Harris had choked the run flow to an extent that he dominated the batsmen. Nearing the end of his second spell, his overall figures read 28-15-36-3 before Harbhajan did some minor damage. Harris had succeeded in what he set about to do: primarily his brief has been to keep the legs of the new ball pair of Steyn and Morne Morkel, who also happen to be his Titans mates, and keep Wayne Parnell fresh.

He allows the guys like Dale, Morne, Wayne and Jacques to perform their own roles they need to - he is the glue between all of them. To see him pick some key wickets today, [which includes] some important names is important to him and important to our side.
Graeme Smith on Harris

This was nothing new for Harris, despite being a favourite sandbag of the media. The man from Harare has been a facilitator to the fast bowling department for the last two years. On the victorious journey of Australia in 2008, Harris was the second-best South African bowler behind Steyn. Back home, on the return leg against Ricky Ponting's revenge-hungry soldiers, Harris once again kept the pressure on at one end to finish the series with 14 victims, just two behind the joint leading pair of Steyn and Mitchell Johnson. Incidentally, he recorded his best innings' figures of 6 for 127 at Newlands, which played a massive hand in the face-saving win in the final Test of the series that the visitors clinched 2-1. Importantly Harris was the lone South African to bag a five-for in that series.

Harris has never had pretensions about his job. What has also helped is being a fighter. When Geoffery Boycott famously called him a "buffet" bowler after a disastrous series in England in the early part of 2008, Harris decided the best way to chuck the pie back at the critics was bake good performances. So when he excelled in the Cape Town Test against the Aussies he made no bones about having "no respect for Boycott the person". A chirpy guy on the field, Harris had once slapped Steyn hard to just charge up his wilting strike bowler. So when he got Andrew Symonds out twice in the historic 2008 Perth Test, he couldn't help have a laugh at the Queenslander. "How shit must you be if I got you out twice," Harris quipped to Symonds.

Smith was elaborate in his praise of Harris. "I have got used to guys writing off Paul wherever we travel. No one really gives him a chance," he said. According to Smith, Harris a really selfless guy who knows his role and performs it well. "He allows the guys like Dale, Morne, Wayne and Jacques to perform their own roles they need to - he is the glue between all of them. To see him pick some key wickets today, [which includes] some important names is important to him and important to our side."

Clearly it was an important moment in Harris' life as he didn't waste time in plucking a stump out as souvenir seconds after Steyn had knocked back final India wicket. He had earned it.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rana on February 12, 2010, 10:45 GMT

    I think Harris is the most underrated and probably the best SPINNER in the world. "HE DOES HIS JOB WELL". Forget Botha and any other up and comer but Harris is THE MAN...pun intended.

  • theo on February 10, 2010, 10:52 GMT

    @BigCharlie: My sentiments exactly. It's because India are so over-hyped that people perceive them to be 'over-rated.' Amit Mishra is an ORDINARY spinner that had 1 good test directly after Kumble retired. Doesn't meen he's good... he doesn't provide any sort of role.

  • TONY on February 10, 2010, 10:43 GMT

    So much hype about Harris. Not one word about Johan Botha. Botha is an attacking spinner and far more dependable as to where he places the ball. He has strong leadership qualities and really sizes up the weaknesses of the batsmen. A brilliant thinking bowler Harris was inconstitent and awful in every match he played against England. Graeme Swann was excellent on the same pitches. We so easily forget how sensational the combination of Johan Botha and Van der Merwe were against Australia. Our selectors are too rigid, in sticking with Harris only in tests

  • Charles on February 10, 2010, 9:23 GMT

    There is one thing that Indians are missing about Harris...he has a job to do and he does well. How he got batsman out is not relevant, the point is, he is playing his role effectively. India lost partly to his contributions and thats it. Good Luck in the 2nd test. PS: India is the most overrated team in world cricket.

  • theo on February 10, 2010, 8:56 GMT

    Stats very often don't tell the true story. Harris is not a fantasticly brilliant bowler, but the SA bowlers bowl as a UNIT. in the unit, Harris has a role that best serves the unit... and boy does he do that WELL!! People under-estimate his wicket taking ability, but people forget that due to his bowling, the other bowlers can do what they do!

  • Rajat on February 10, 2010, 8:51 GMT

    i Think The way india is going about their cricket....they will never win the world-cup....because they dont have good bowlers to bowl out a team like South Africa.No matter they have played well but I will give you an example....Ishant was warned by The umpires In bangladesh of landing on danger area what he does in an important game vs south africa 10 days later he does the same instead of focussing on how to get the batsmen out he focussed on not landing on danger area.No Improvement No focus.What will Zaheer do alone.He did his job in the first four overs of his spell.

  • Rana on February 10, 2010, 8:37 GMT

    Ridiculous to mention Harris as a spinner. Yes, SA won and deservedly so but this joker pitching way outside leg stump is getting accolades because...? dsig3, what are you going on about? Every good spinner should and does get his Warne, Murali, Iqbal Qasim, Mushtaq, Saqlain, etc. have they not gotten their just dues? Whatever helps you sleep a night by taking swipes. Its a game, that is all it will go on, a lot more important things to worry about than pointless rant about a so called spinner who would find it hard to make any squad...even Bangladesh.

  • Dummy4 on February 10, 2010, 7:37 GMT

    Bhaji has taken only four five fors in the last five years..... is this what we need from our lead spinner in the subcontinent pitches

  • Dummy4 on February 10, 2010, 6:28 GMT

    India should give chance to Aushik Srinivasan or Chalwa instead on Mistra in the kolkatta, Chalwa has done enough in the 2 day game against SA in the same Pitch.By picking important wickets ...

  • Rahul on February 10, 2010, 6:21 GMT

    Usualy to win a test you need to take 20 wickets and keep the opositin around 600 runs combined in both eanings. Look at the indian bowling attack. Apart from zaheer who no doubt is world class each and every other bowler need help from the wicket or batsmen to score 800+ runs combined in both eanings. Harbhajan who is no 1 spinner is in such a poor form that even on indian wickets with all the experience he cant get SAF batsmen out when the bowl was turning and zaheer snaped both the openers. Really selectors should look beyond him. A break from the game will serve him well. Mishra is just finding his footing in international cricket and so is ojha. I doubt dhoni can take gamble like the last time in kanpur when he requested for a raging turner when his spin bowlers are in such a poor form. He even went in with saha as speacialist batsmen instead of picking 3 spinners like azhar used to do against non subcontinent teams. That tells about his confidence in his spinners.

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