July 7, 2015

Loss of Harris will change Australia's bowling plans

Ryan Harris was a bowler for all roles, and his absence makes the Ashes a bit more difficult to call

When I landed in London and turned on my phone to hear of Ryan Harris' retirement, the first feeling was one of disappointment that his body would not let him achieve all that he could have done in the game. Despite how tough and resilient he has been, all those days of bowling through pain and all that rehab work have finally caught up with him.

Rhino was a go-to bowler for any captain, in any format. He may have been a different style of bowler to Glenn McGrath but his captain's desire to throw him the ball at every opportunity was about the same. You'd go to him when you needed a wicket, you'd go to him when you needed a tight spell giving nothing away, and you'd go to him when you needed a hostile burst of short stuff. He could take on any role and do it as well as anyone.

There was more to him than skill and speed. Everyone around the team knew that when it came to be Rhino's turn to stand up and get a job done, he'd either get it done for you or die trying. They are the sorts of players that any captain would choose in a heartbeat.

Coming across him in his early days with South Australia, it was hard to predict the sort of bowler he would go on to become. In their one-day side he was a bits-and-pieces allrounder, bowling medium pace around 130kph and hitting the ball hard in the lower order. After a few years with Redbacks he put on the extra pace that made him a handful with the new ball, but it was when he moved to Queensland that I think he found his best.

I'm not sure if he started to take the game more seriously around then, but he was certainly doing a lot more to attract the attention of the national selectors. Having the chance to take the new ball at the Gabba more regularly was great for him - as opposed to sitting at first or second change on the flatter pitch in Adelaide.

The last time I faced him, in the 2013 Sheffield Shield final, he had mastered every skill. In the second innings he had the ball reversing inside the first 10 overs, and got me lbw padding up in a spell where he took 4 for 6. We recovered in the game to take the Shield, but as usual Rhino had done absolutely everything to give his team a chance. It wasn't a surprise to see him go on from there and be Australia's best bowler in England that year.

Everyone around the team knew that when it came to be Rhino's turn to stand up and get a job done, he'd either get it done for you or die trying

By that stage the selectors had left him out of one-day cricket to keep him going in Tests for as long as possible, and that was another area where Rhino's body robbed him of the chance to do far more in the game. One of his early games for Australia was a one-dayer in Adelaide where I asked him to bowl at the death against Pakistan and he responded with five wickets. Next we went to Perth, where he swung it around corners and grabbed eight wickets in two games. Given a healthier right knee, his ODI record could have been phenomenal.

We got to know each other quite well from there, and shared a pair of common loves: racing greyhounds and getting on to the golf course as much as possible. I'll look forward to a few more rounds with him now he'll have some extra time on his hands. Away from his fiercely competitive side on the field, Ryan was always keen for a beer and a chat, and enjoyed celebrating victories as much as anyone. I'm rapt, too, that he and his wife Cherie have a beautiful baby boy now, Carter; it's another phase of life he is sure to enjoy.

That being said, he loves the game too much to walk away from it completely. I'm sure he'll find himself a coaching role soon, a process he had already begun before retirement. He will be good at it too, because he understands bowling, he understands people, and he's a very good communicator around a team. There will be a long line of young fast bowlers eager to hear what he has to say.

I'm sure they will include Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, who will all now need to step up alongside Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle. Losing a bowler as versatile as Ryan does make a significant change to the attack, because Hazlewood, Starc and Johnson are all out and out new-ball bowlers, and choosing who to start with and who to follow up will create a headache for Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann.

In the World Cup, Starc and Hazlewood had to bowl with the new ball, leaving Johnson to come in at first change. But in Test cricket, I'm sure Michael will want to use Johnson in a similar way to the last Ashes series at home, when he was not just intimidating but terrifying with a new ball in his hand. If Johnson is used in short, sharp spells, it means others will have to take up that slack, and the man for the job may end up being Shane Watson, given his suitability for seam and swing bowling in England.

I was starting in the Shield for Tasmania around the time Trevor Bayliss was winding down for New South Wales. We haven't crossed paths much since then, but what strikes me about him is that he has been successful as a coach no matter where he has done it. The likes of Brad Haddin, David Warner and Steve Smith speak very highly of him, and unlike some of England's recent coaches he should be able to keep the players from getting too intense.

Around the time of the World Cup it looked as though England's players were scared of making mistakes and devoid of confidence in their ability. They have looked better since Peter Moores' departure, and the interim coach Paul Farbrace's relationship with Bayliss should ensure that continues. With Australia losing Rhino and England gaining Bayliss, this Ashes contest is shaping up to be a little more close than it seemed to be a few months ago.

One of cricket's modern greats, Ricky Ponting captained Australia in 324 matches and scored over 27,000 runs

Comments