Harris suggests South Africa play two spinners
Paul Harris, the South Africa left-arm spinner, has suggested South Africa play two spinners against Australia in the first Test in Cape Town, a move that would be a radical departure from the usual make-up of the starting XI and something that South Africa has rarely done.
Harris and Imran Tahir, the Pakistani-born legspinner, are the two spinners in the 14-man squad and it is expected that the pair will not play together. Tahir, who is touted as South Africa's first attacking spinner since Paul Adams, has had a dizzying rise to prominence since becoming eligible to play for South Africa in January and debuting at the 2011 World Cup. His success was thought to signal the end of Harris' international career. Harris is no longer a CSA contracted player and said he did not think he was part of the side's future plans.
Now that he is in the squad, Harris hopes to work with Tahir, who is, essentially, his biggest competitor. "I didn't think I was going to be in the squad in the first place. It was a nice surprise," Harris said. "It's good having Imran here as well because he is an attacking option and he deserved his call-up. It would be nice to bowl with him."
Harris and Tahir spent three seasons playing together for the Titans franchise, in which time they won the SuperSport Series once. "We bowl well together, we know each other's games and we get on quite well, so it's something we can exploit in the future," Harris said. "To have two spinners in South African conditions will be quality."
Newlands is the venue of the first Test and Harris said it was one of the places where South Africa could consider playing two spinners. "This is one of the grounds where you can do it, it does turn here. If they can get the pitch prepared to turn, it's a very good option."
Harris has not seen the pitch yet but understands that much will depend on the weather, which is expected to be cool and rainy in the lead-up to the Test. He said if the rain stayed away and a track that suited spin was prepared it could provide South Africa with "an area that we can exploit," since Australia do not have the same spin weapon they once did in Shane Warne.
Playing two spinners, Harris said, would also lessen the load on Jacques Kallis, the 36-year-old allrounder who is reaching that stage of his career where being managed does not refer to appearing in television advertisements. "I think he will bowl less if we play two spinners. He shouldn't bowl as much as he used to and if you can get one spell, maybe one-and-a-half spells, out of Jacques every day, that's all you want from him."
While all Harris' reasons are fairly logical, the cynic may hear them as a desperate plea from a man who does not want to lose his spot in the national side. Harris has been South Africa's premier Test spinner since January 2007, when he took five wickets in his debut match against India. Despite dealing with heavy criticism throughout the last four years, Harris has not been dropped once. Test captain Graeme Smith has praised him for playing a key, containing role and has maintained that Harris is an essential part of South Africa's attack.
In the current domestic season, Harris is third in the list of wicket-takers in the SuperSport Series, with 14 wickets from three matches at an average of 15.78. He said that was enough to merit his inclusion in the Test team, along with Tahir, but was philosophical about being left out. "May the best man win," he said at the conclusion of his two-spinner theory.
The domestic statistics this season are in Harris' favour: Tahir has taken 10 wickets in two matches and sat out the third due to a fitness concern. He has been expensive, although he has played on pitches that have not suited his type of bowling. Importantly though, both Tahir and Harris have had match practice, something that players like Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers have missed out on because of injury.
South Africa appeared undercooked in the Twenty20 and ODI series against Australia, and Harris said the emphasis on preparation had been increased. "Most of the guys who haven't played any first-class cricket recently are the senior guys and they've been around for a while; hopefully they will be able to adjust quite quickly. The preparation hasn't been ideal but we've got three days now, and we'll prepare as best as we can. It would have been easier to prepare if we had the Tests first and the one-dayers second."
Like many fans, Harris also lamented the series being shortened to two Tests from the usual three. "It would be nice to play at least three Tests against Australia. Dale Steyn made a comment the other day that he was on holiday longer than the series is going to last, so it is a bit disappointing."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent