August 18, 2013

Why Ryan Harris should play at The Oval

He and Chris Rogers have been Australia's sole positives in the latter half of this Ashes series

As Australia deal with the aftermath of not only losing the Ashes series but also the convincing, even venomous, manner in which England crushed their batting to end the fourth Test, the two real positives that have emerged for sleep-weary folk Down Under are Ryan Harris and Chris Rogers.

Their efforts in Durham did not deserve to be left so unrewarded by the final result, but they can at least be consoled by the thought that they have proven themselves beyond all doubt as Test-match cricketers for their country.

I've had a lot to do with Ryan through playing together in the IPL, getting to know him as a cricketer and a man. It's certainly no surprise to see him achieve the success that's come his way in this series. In my experience he embodies everything that is required of the perfect team cricketer. Ryan drives himself as hard as he possibly can for personal excellence, but in pursuing that it's all done with a vision focused on whatever the team requires at any given moment.

Whether he's opening up with a new-ball spell, backing up late in the day for his 22nd over, or being part of a social function and trying to develop a sense of collective spirit, he's very aware of what being a team member is about. I've never seen him shy away from those requirements, whether written or unwritten. A particularly important quality is the amount of interest he shows in his team-mates. He's always been prepared to listen rather than be the dominant voice in the room, and that sort of humility helps enormously in creating a closeness among those around him.

To this point Ryan's greatest challenge has been fitness, and his efforts in England make it easy to wonder how much better Australia may have performed at various times in recent years had a fit Ryan Harris always been available to them. He's a strong guy and he works hard, but unfortunately he's someone who has found a way of picking up what starts as a niggling injury and then can develop into something more significant, leading to time on the sidelines.

With that in mind, it will be fascinating to see which way Australia's selectors go for the final Test of the series. England have themselves lost the sorely underrated Tim Bresnan to a back stress fracture, and the tourists will not want to follow suit. While mindful of the opportunity to rest guys who may be injured and therefore miss future matches, I think Ryan himself deep down would dearly like to play at The Oval. When you've missed as much cricket as he has through injury, and don't know how much you have left, you want to take every opportunity to go out and play.

Australia have a chance to show some of the resolve they demonstrated for most of the two Test matches at Old Trafford and Chester-le-Street, and try to get the kind of result that would lead to a more positive mindset when they start the return series back home. I've always felt that if they're all fit, you pick your best XI, and under those terms Ryan is just about the first man who should be chosen. Only he will truly know if he has any niggles or issues that may stop him from making it through that Test match, but I hope for Australia's sake that he plays.

The collapse of the batting on the fourth evening of the Durham Test showed that Chris Rogers' skills and character are in increasingly short supply, and should be valued as such

Having taken part in the 2008 Perth Test match that for so long seemed destined to be Chris Rogers' one and only game for Australia, I've been delighted to see him get a decent opportunity in this series, and even more so to see how tightly he has grabbed it. He was picked specifically for the tour, given his experience in England and the stability he would provide, and he has more than ticked off all of the things that were asked of him. He's been a terrific example to the whole team of how to go about your batting, how to build an innings and provide a solid foundation for the rest.

When he came into the WACA ground dressing room six years ago, he was someone stepping into an Australian team that had been very successful for many years, though we were towards the end of that run and had bid farewell to a few iconic players already. At that stage of the summer, after the dramas surrounding the end of the Sydney Test, we were probably a little bit lost, and he's said in years since that it perhaps wasn't the most comfortable change room at the time. That makes for an interesting comparison with the team Chris has become a part of now, but the main thing he has achieved is to show what can be done when a batsman knows his game and his job very clearly.

Of course, innings of the quality of his 84 at Old Trafford and then his wonderfully gutsy century in Durham raise the question about why Chris was not chosen earlier. For years Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden kept him out of the team with their unshakeable partnership. But once they retired, it appeared the selectors felt that - as he had passed the age of 30 - it was time to start giving younger players an opportunity and get early twentysomethings into the team. That was a judgement made at the time, but fortunately for Australia, Chris kept at it and was belatedly given a chance.

Having taken it up so grandly, there is no reason he should not now play many more Test matches for Australia, going on for as long as he wants to. The collapse of the batting on the fourth evening of the Durham Test showed that Chris' skills and character are in increasingly short supply, and should be valued as such.

At 33 and 35, Ryan and Chris are products of the older Australian cricket scene that pushed the importance of the Sheffield Shield through the 1990s and into the 2000s. If any players of more recent generations are wondering about what is required to become reliable first-class cricketers and then quality Test-match performers, these two men provide a priceless example of how to do so.

Adam Gilchrist was speaking to Daniel Brettig

Adam Gilchrist played 96 Tests for Australia as a wicketkeeper-batsman and was part of three winning Ashes campaigns

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 20, 2013, 12:03 GMT

    I admire Harris. He s short, but bowls with a lot of heart. I wish he pllayed another 3-4 years without any injury.

  • Dummy4 on August 20, 2013, 5:26 GMT

    I think Australia should try Glen Maxwell in the middle order to strengthen the batting in the 5th and final test he's a talented player.

  • Varnendra on August 20, 2013, 4:39 GMT

    In anything Gilchrist does you get a sense of goodness; his writing is no exception; no malice; no sarcasm; no putting down.........Like in his batting he doesn't need those negatives. I have began to think that actually Gilchrist is the greatest cricketer ever lived.

  • Dummy4 on August 20, 2013, 4:11 GMT

    The Ashes in England is done and dusted. Inspite of all the criticism, I feel Australia will do well at home against Eng. My pick for the next leg is, and as per the batting order: C Rogers, D Warner, S Watson( VC ), M Clarke( C ), G Bailey, A Voges, M Wade (W), P Siddle, J Pattinson, R Harris , N Lyon Bench- J Bird, J Faulkner, M Starc, G Maxwell, S Smith, B Haddin (W )

    Its time Hughes and Cowan go back to domestic and regain the much needed confidence that Australia has successfully managed to kill. Veterans like Voges and Bailey are bound to do well under pressure.

  • Android on August 19, 2013, 21:02 GMT

    IMHO, there is not much between Australia and England. England, as stated by Michael Vaughan, have had the better of the batting conditions, and with Bell batting out of his skin, would've lost the first and fourth test. And lets not forget how lucky the poms have been with the all important toss of the coin. 3-0 currently but it could very easily have been 3-1 to the Aussies with a bit of luck and decent weather.

  • Bhavik on August 19, 2013, 16:47 GMT

    Gilly, post Langer-Hayden, it was not for giving opportunity to young talent that Chris was not given a chance. If that was the case Simon Katich wouldn't have been moved to opening role as he was 33 by then.

  • Harry on August 19, 2013, 16:08 GMT

    Test cricket is about strategy and implementing it repeatedly. This is where the Aussie team of the golden years did well similar to McGrath bowling ball after ball at the same spot and wears out the batsmen. What current Aussie teams lacks is strategy and Clarke and Lehmann are bad at it. They need S.Waugh or Ponting to help them there as consultants. What should they do at the Oval in my opinion - 1) Set goals for top 4 batsmen like score 250 in the first innings, 5-7 score another 100 and tail score 50. They can hit 400 by doing that. For batting order, pick the best players of fast and swing bowling for top 4, good players of spin for 5-7. Lower the goals for second innings like 200, 80 and 20. No worries about whether they achieve it at the Oval but start the process and the right plan will emerge and batsmen will grow in confidence.

    Don't tinker with the bowling it works! Maybe look for an actual spinner not tweakers.

  • Rj on August 19, 2013, 14:41 GMT

    All very good comments from the master wicket keeper batsman. There are wide ranging theories about whats happened to the Australian team. The theory that the Aussie bloke has gone soft with the high standard of living is interesting but not convincing.

    Silliness aside, above all else the selectors are going to have to devise clever ways around their player resource problems. If that includes using guys who perform but only have 1-3 years left of their career, so be it.

    The scary thing for Australia is that England are far from the being the finished product, but they're streets ahead of Australia. And surely no credit can be taken from England, they have a steel and self belief about them that Australia must surely envy. The bowlers work hard and the batting lineup is such that invariably someone stands up and covers the team when most have failed. Batting down to Swan, (and till recently to Bresnan) is a luxury and for a tire attack can be a backbreaker, just ask Patto!

  • Dummy4 on August 19, 2013, 10:56 GMT

    And Jayzuz conveniently overlooks the fact that "the tightly contested nature of the actual games" were mostly due to the efforts of Rogers and Harris. That "Australia was heading for a crushing win in the third test till rain robbed them" is simply wishful thinking as England had lost only the three wickets with Bell and Root at the crease. Thank God that there are sensible Australians such as Mr Gilchrist who do not confuse their wishes for reality. Great article!