Top Performer - Paul Harris

Spinning magic

Paul Harris outshone his much-publicised team-mates in the Test series against Pakistan by topping the wickets chart

Faras Ghani

October 17, 2007

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Paul Harris outshone the Pakistan spinners on their home turf © Getty Images

As Inzamam-ul-Haq lumbered off with his bat for the final time in his international career, and Pakistan mourned the loss of a hero, a thin and springy character was being mauled on the field. South Africa were celebrating the birth of a hero of their own.

Paul Harris, whose teasing spin undid Inzamam, has been around the first-class circuit for nine years. It was only after the sudden retirement of Nicky Boje that the selectors dragged him into the frame for the home series against India. A four-wicket haul on debut - including the prized scalp of Sachin Tendulkar - thrust Harris into the limelight straightaway in the Pakistan series the following month. Responding with six wickets in two matches, including a four-for, Harris had repaid the selectors' faith and become a fixture. Temporarily, at least.

The tour to Pakistan was set up as Harris' biggest test. Not only was he touring for the first time, and bowling on unfamiliar pitches to batsmen well at ease against spin, he also ran the risk of being overshadowed by the likes of Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock and Dale Steyn. And while his place in the Test side was guaranteed (as the only spinner in the squad), a record of 11 wickets in four Tests till then wasn't something to crow about. An innocuous performance in the tour match leading up to the first Test only reduced the expectations.

It soon became apparent that Pakistan were considering slow, turning tracks - Shoaib Malik spoke of playing to their strength - but even so few expected Harris to play wrecker-in-chief. A South African spinner tormenting the home side with spin and bounce in each innings? Banish the thought.

Two matches and 12 wickets later Harris had proved to be just that, with a five-wicket haul on away debut to boot. He produced sparks when they were needed most; he dismissed both Pakistan openers twice in four innings and got the better of Kamran Akmal all four times in the series - three of those after Akmal had ruthlessly punished his team.

The high release allowed him sharp turn on a crumbling Karachi pitch, and bounce that daunted a promising but fragile Pakistan line-up. And it wasn't just the batsmen who faced the force: Mark Boucher was hit flat on the cheek as Younis Khan played and missed

Harris wanted to be a fast bowler, due to his height, but resorted to spin as he lacked "fast-twitch muscles" in his body. In Pakistan his high release allowed him considerable - and sharp at times due to a crumbling Karachi pitch - bounce that daunted a promising but fragile batting line-up and forced them to succumb as he persisted. And it wasn't just the batsmen who faced the force: Mark Boucher was hit flat on the cheek as Younis Khan played and missed.

Not relying solely on the bounce, Harris introduced the surprise element: sharp spin. The Pakistan batsmen were left perplexed, their frailty against left-armers exposed . And when the ball failed to spin and went straight on, the results were all too similar - as Akmal duly realised.

As the series progressed, the crowds saw no Pollock and little from Ntini, while Steyn and Andre Nel were effective in brief bursts. Harris easily outshone his much-publicised team-mates. He was the workhorse that dazzled, making use of his probing length and annoying accuracy. He utilised the bowlers' footmarks but it was mostly the curator's generosity that he manipulated. Batsmen were dismissed when they cut, swept, drove, and even when they resorted to defence only to be hit plumb in front. One, not knowing what to do, went back as the ball straightened and bounced, and only managed to dab it back onto his stumps. With no immediate solution in mind, attack seemed the apt reply. Apt, but not effective, as Malik, Inzamam and even Umar Gul realised.

Harris' gagging tactics paid off: persisting with a leg-stump line, he induced false strokes, impatient charges and top-edged sweeps. Flight followed by spin had the batsmen stretching forward, pushing and missing. The zip and extra bounce that he generated off the pitch didn't allow batsmen to cut without risk.

Jacques Kallis may have been declared Man of the Series but Harris was just as impressive, shrugging off a late-replacement tag to become a fitting and useful addition. He had his moments with the bat too - the gritty 46 at Karachi was a vital innings in the context of the match - but it was with the ball that he spoke loudest.

Faras Ghani is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo

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