July 10, 2008

An operatic introduction to England

Paul Harris
South Africa's spin bowler reflects on the early weeks of the tour



Paul Harris even had a chance to show his batting prowess with a half-century on a flat pitch at Taunton© Getty Images
 

Everything has gone well in the first two weeks and we could not have really wished for much more. The Somerset match was good for the batters as it was a flat wicket and most of the guys got in and scored runs - Hashim [Amla] played unbelievably well and Jacques [Kallis] scored a run-a-ball hundred, so we were happy. The fast bowlers had to run in really hard and that was what they needed. If they had been presented with a green top, they would not have had to work so hard and may have been under-bowled by the time of the first Test.

The thing I will always remember most about that first week, though, was how hard everyone worked in training. We had long net sessions and then we would be in the gym in the afternoons. It's the hardest I have seen the squad train since I have been around the international team these last 18 months. The determination to do well on this trip from the guys who have been to England before and not won is really obvious.

The plan was to be Test-ready by the time we got to our second practice game, against Middlesex at Uxbridge. That was another good workout for everyone and Hashim chalked up another century and showed what spectacular form he's in. We wanted to play that match with the same intensity we would have shown in a Test match. Maybe it wasn't as easy to do at an outground like Uxbridge but that was the mentality with which we were approaching it.

From my own point of view I got what I wanted out of those first two games, which was to bowl lots of overs and get my legs strong and ready to bowl long spells in a Test. Unlike some of the guys in the team, I chose not to go to the IPL and instead stayed at home to rest, so in the first part of this tour I wanted to bowl a lot as I had not bowled in a first-class match since our tour of India in April. Those first two matches gave us a good start. The only negative would be that they make the tour a very long and tiring one, but it is a small thing and the positives by far outweigh the negatives.

There has been a lot of media attention aimed at our pace attack since we arrived and people ask me if I mind being out of the limelight, but I am happy to do my own thing. We are all used to the fact that wherever South Africa tour, the local media are going to focus on our fast bowlers as that has been our strength for years. It's not a new thing for me. Results and individual performances will ultimately be the proof of the pudding. I back myself to have my time in the sun at some point in the series when I will be needed to play a leading role for my team. But until that happens I am more than happy for the big, burly fast bowlers to hog all the attention.

 
 
Ajantha Mendis has been a great advert for spin bowling and he deserves all the attention he gets. I have not actually seen him bowl, but I hear he has got a strange action
 

At least Sri Lanka's new spin sensation Ajantha Mendis made a name for himself on Sunday. To take six for almost nothing against India in the final of an event like the Asia Cup was amazing and he deserves all the media attention he gets. I feel it was a great advert for spin bowling. I did not get a chance to see much of that tournament and I have not actually seen him bowl, but I hear he has got a strange action.

I am well aware that my chance to make a name for myself is in my grasp. There's no doubt that with all the excellent media coverage cricket gets in the UK, this is the place to put yourself on the map. It's the tour where I have seen the most press and I have noticed when I am touring that whatever is going on in England always gets more coverage. Results are more important than anything but if people want to write about this team, hopefully being successful, that's great for South African cricket and hopefully for me.

Finally I should mention that on Tuesday evening the squad and all the back-room staff went out together to see The Phantom of the Opera. It was a great show and two guys who said they probably wouldn't like it, particularly enjoyed it. Yes Andre Nel and Jacques Kallis may just be theatre converts!

There's not much else to report on the social front over the first two weeks as everyone has been pretty boring and stayed in the hotel a lot. Basically, it all boils down to how focused we all are to win this Test series. I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities for us to let our hair down, hopefully after winning a Test or two.

South Africa spinner Paul Harris's diaries will appear on Cricinfo throughout the England series