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Harris sees gain from injury pain

Injuries are part and parcel for a pace bowler and James Harris has already had to deal with his fair share. He talks to ESPNcricinfo about the challenge

Alex Winter

May 8, 2012

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James Harris celebrates removing Kaushal Silva, England Lions v Sri Lanka A, Scarborough, August 3, 2011
Despite only nearing his 22nd birthday, James Harris already has plenty of experience under his belt © Getty Images
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Out of the sighs a little comes,
But not of grief, for I have knocked down that
Before the agony; the spirit grows, Forgets, and cries;

Perhaps Dylan Thomas didn't compose poetry in reference to a cricketer with a groin injury but there is much about James Harris in the opening lines of Out of the Sighs. Harris' career has suffered a significant stalling; a brighter predicament than the darker scenarios mostly discussed in Thomas' work, but one that has created the most frustrating time of his life. It could be a good thing.

Harris, like Thomas, born in Swansea, turns 22 next week and when he returns to fitness this will be his sixth season as a professional: an outrageous fact. He has already learned enough to look at his career-path pragmatically. For him, what comes out of the sighs of this injury break is long-term benefit.

"I've never had an injury that's kept me out for this long," Harris told ESPNcricinfo. "It's been tough, it's been a bit of an eye opener. I was bad for a bit, I was angry and annoyed but if you look at it objectively, it's not the worst thing, in years to come I might look back and think those six or seven months off gave my body a chance to catch up."

His body probably needs a catch up. Harris describes himself as his own worst enemy; his love of playing saw him send down over 1,000 first-class overs from April 2010 to September 2011. "I had a busy 18 months with basically no rest. Looking back I could have gone 'I'm going to snap at some point'."

Harris took 63 wickets in 2010 and earned a place on the England Lions tour to the West Indies: a tour where 14 wickets at 30.35 was the first step on the path to his predicted international glory. Last season 47 more wickets followed before the perennial rise was cut down.

A groin injury forced him out of the final two games of the 2011 summer. After some time off, the problem didn't ease at Loughborough or in Potchefstroom with the England Performance Programme - a trip, despite his troubles, that Harris described as "very, very good". Suddenly a double hernia operation was needed: a moment where his spirit, grown with unbroken success, perhaps cried for the first time in his career.

A first injection to the problem area, were that enough, enough to ease the pain? Unfortunately not, a second injection rendered him almost immovable for 10 days. But an overtly emotional response to an ultimately minor setback isn't Harris. He is calm, collected, charming and cool over the seriousness of his plight.

"I had an injection in the middle of my pelvis five weeks ago and March 30 was the injection right where it hurts," Harris, in full Glamorgan training gear, said. "It might take 5-10 days to kick in and then it's about building up match fitness. I've been able to do all the work apart from top level sprinting." A positive sign that any grief of missing cricket will be quickly knocked down.

 
 
A second injection rendered him almost immovable for 10 days. But an overtly emotional response to an ultimately minor setback isn't Harris
 

The frustration built into a final angst of not being able to do anything while the injection does what is hoped. Harris was even banned from shopping on Oxford Street following his treatment in London - he has seen all the best people. There has been no golf either. No trips to the Celtic Manor where he is trying to justify a membership. Team-mate Dean Cosker is also a regular on the TwentyTen course.

Stationary doesn't seem at all right for Harris which is probably why he isn't exactly one for literature. But he cooks and the time off has given him chance to experiment in the kitchen. Two summer curries were recently conjured; Mexican is also on the menu, but he can't get on with sushi. Steak is his favourite dish.

Given such pleasure at talking over food options, one assumes Harris has not followed the Stuart Broad 2,000 calorie-a-day diet while he has been injured? He didn't need to. "I've done a few periods of brilliantly eating for a couple of months. But I'm quite lucky in that I don't tend to carry any weight at all. My trouble is putting on weight; I go through a summer and lose weight."

His physique earned him the nickname "bones" - something regular shifts in the gym is trying to erase. "I love the gym sessions. I come in most mornings early and do a session, especially now I'm not playing."

Harris has also used his time off to mull over some ideas for his future - remarkable given where his career is at. But his plans are slow burners. Architecture is one of them - an eight-year part-time course - law is another. He's full of ideas. And when conversation returns to cricket he's cracked the problem of a franchise system for T20: something he says has to happen in this country.

"Change the contracts so players have deals for four-day and one-day cricket. Then July would be a gap for a T20 competition with teams by cities and everyone in an auction. You'd get all the overseas guys because there's no other cricket at that stage. If you get picked up, brilliant, you sign another contract for that month. If you don't get picked up, it's in your county contract that you'd get 10 days holiday mid-season and the other 20 days you're in working on skills for the last two months of the season. And they'd have to split the profits between counties."

Done deal. Send Harris to the ECB meetings. He coped with the "Lions' Den" interview process at Loughborough where all the players faced a four-man panel and had to explain why they should be picked for England. "It's a little bit scary," Harris said. "I like to think I speak quite confidently but some of the boys were really fretting about it."

Fretting is not something Harris seems to have ever done or ever will do. He is skilled enough to play at the highest level and already experienced enough to know how to get there. Like Dylan Thomas, Harris has achieved a great deal early in life and for him, much is to come out of the current sighs.

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

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