Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 27, 2014

Ryan Harris battles knee and self-doubt

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Ryan Harris' wonky right knee has taken a battering in South Africa and so too has his self-confidence. Determined to squeeze one more Test series out of his 34-year-old frame before checking himself in for surgery, Harris has found himself struggling to claim wickets for the first time in his otherwise wonderfully late blooming career.

Between worrying about his knee, which has been locking up more frequently due to the bone fragments floating around its inner workings, and battling South Africa's batsmen, Harris has taken only three wickets at 74 in two Tests, opening up virtually the first questions about his place since his debut in 2010. Since then he has invariably played whenever fit, but now the selectors may be tempted to draft in the younger James Pattinson for Cape Town, and Harris knows it.

"It's getting to the stage where it's catching a lot more and clicking a lot more, there's all those fragments in there that are giving me the s***s," Harris said of his knee. "But I'll push through this game, hopefully bowl better and get it fixed it up in a week and a half or two weeks. I think I'll be fine to play body-wise, it's just whether or not form-wise I'm going alright. Three wickets at 74 is not great at the moment, and it's a big Test.

"So it's obviously up to Darren [Lehmann], Michael [Clarke] and John [Inverarity] to see what they do there. But I'm hoping I'll be alright. I guess I've been a little bit unlucky, but that's the way the game is. I haven't felt great to be honest. I've felt good in spells, the new ball has been good and a couple of spells with the old ball.

"But I think middle of day three in Port Elizabeth - we fielded for a lot of that game - when I was bowling to Amla he was just driving me for fun. I just felt like something wasn't right. So I've got a bit of work to do over the next few days. Day off and then I'll do some stuff with Craig [McDermott], and we'll go from there. But I know I'm not far away. My pace is still good. It's just a matter of consistency at the moment."

One of the issues seemingly caused by Harris' knee is a tendency to drop short at the start of each spell in South Africa, offering the hosts a ball to hit straight away and relaxing the pressure he has usually been able to exert on batsmen. Like a few other areas, including a lack of swing in this series and a variance in his accuracy from spell to spell, Harris is searching for a solution.

"I'm aware of it but it keeps happening," Harris said. "I keep asking Michael to put a deep point out because that seems to be where I get hit. It's just something I have to get better at I guess when I am told to start bowling. Whether I have got to do more run throughs or take more time to get right. It's not good enough, the first ball every time the batsman is sitting on the back foot waiting for a short ball and that's something I have got to get better at. On Thursday I will bowl a spell and then have a rest and work on having a break to rectify it."

Harris, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson have all shouldered a heavy load over the first two Tests as the only three pace men in the attack. Shane Watson's looming recall as a No. 6 batsman and change bowler is something Harris hoped would provide the ideal balance for Newlands, where Australia are seeking a series-clinching win over South Africa to complete a highly successful summer.

"Having Watto back would be huge, having that extra bowler," he said. "We've seen when Davey [Warner] has to bowl a few here and there and Michael has to fill in, they're bowling Watto's overs so having him there is huge for our attack. South Africa have tried to do that with their attack but lost a bowler last game. Who he comes in for I don't know, the guys who are already in there, Alex Doolan and Shaun Marsh, didn't go well last game but have done well. Who knows. But I think we need Watto playing."

Should Harris play, he has one personal goal ahead of him. Needing seven wickets for 100 in Test matches when he arrived in South Africa, he is still four away from the mark, something he did not expect to get anywhere near when he left the MCG during the 2010-11 Ashes with a foot fracture. A few wickets, a victory in Cape Town, and a date with the surgeon would allow Harris some peace of mind, and the chance to further prolong his unlikely career.

"It would've been great to have them [100 wickets] now, but if I get the opportunity . . . it'd be nice to get it here," he said. "I think back to the Ashes of three years ago when we lost in Australia . . . and [at the time] I thought that could be the end of me playing Test cricket, because of my knee. To think where I was back then to where I am now, even if I finished up . . . I'd take 95 wickets.

"It would be a nice little personal achievement to get to 100 but, as I've said all through the summer and with every Test I've played, you've got to treat [each match] as your last - you never know with this thing with my leg. In saying that - and I'm probably contradicting myself - getting it fixed up when I get home will, I think, give me a bit more time. The fragments that are loose are causing the swelling, so if they're not there hopefully the swelling stays down and it's easier for me to get through."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • RedDirt on February 28, 2014, 14:28 GMT

    He is our third seamer. Last of three. His head was on the chopping block, there is no doubt about it. The Poms attacked him relentlessly last summer, especially Pietersen, and that's the only way Siddle gets wickets. By default. They didn't rate him. When they stopped attacking Siddle to conserve wickets two things happened: Cook gave away any hope of victory and Siddle couldn't buy a wicket. I think Bird, Pattinson, Sayers, and possibly Starc are better bowlers than Siddle, so he doesn't even come close for my money. The solution is we need to see more of Sayers before we can pick him, Pattinson leaks runs, and two left armers, much like two legspinners, robs Peter to pay Paul. So it has to be Bird. Harris, Johnson, Bird, Lyon and Watson - a sensational attack imo.

  • Ozcricketwriter on February 28, 2014, 14:22 GMT

    Hi Giri. Thank you for contributing. I will just help you out with a few things. Firstly, sadly, James Faulkner is out injured and was withdrawn from this tour. Had he not been withdrawn, he almost certainly would have played in all 3 tests. There is no need to think of him as he is still injured and is still not a part of the tour. He is a good player though. As for the bowlers, Ryan Harris has a higher ranking right now than either Gillespie, Lee or Fleming ever had in test cricket, and Siddle has also been higher than any of them were at their peaks. Pattinson too is a mighty fine bowler. Australia right now has the best pace bowlers they have ever had in their entire history. The batting isn't particularly good and you are right that they haven't had a good spin bowler since Warne retired. Jackson Bird, who you didn't mention, has a FC and test average of under 20, though it is early days in his career. No need for extra bowlers. Extra bats would be good though.

  • dummy4fb on February 28, 2014, 12:27 GMT

    Harris is at this point in time a better bowler than Pattinson, but the issue of his knee makes the former somewhat of a risk in a five day game. Pattinson bowled well in Brisbane against SA and he is a very good lower order batsman. As a SA supporter, I would somehow want Harris to play, because the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. I suspect Pattinson will play. Anyway, in my book Aus will make a mistake if they leave both Harris and Siddle out. Watson will no doubt ease the pressure on the rest of the attack. We lost a bowler in the second test and still manage to win, but a bowler short is always going to be difficult. In fact, I don't think one can in the long run win test matches without four front line bowlers and an allrounder. On the SA side, I hope Abbott plays.

  • tom120 on February 28, 2014, 9:49 GMT

    Harris should be rested for the next test. There's no point in playing him and risking his career. Also, his hurt knee is the reason why he's not been able to bowl upto his standards in 2 previous matches against SA.

  • LillianThomson on February 28, 2014, 8:36 GMT

    Don't forget, in three weeks it will be exactly 20 years since a tour of South Africa finished off the 32 year old Merv Hughes' knee, and his career.

    Harris is a great bowler, but they would do better to play Pattinson and allow Harris to have his surgery.

  • Shaggy076 on February 28, 2014, 7:39 GMT

    Thosar ; I think you will find 4 of those English batsman average higher than all but Pujara. Also Bell, Cook, Pietersen and Trott all have better averages up there with the South Africans. The English batting line up in terms of statistics is the second best in the world. But by all means keep carrying on with the weak England line you have been pushing. Funny how that weak England beat India away and white washed them at home.

  • cricketsubh on February 28, 2014, 5:35 GMT

    i donot think harris can play for another 2 3 years i think this 2014 year is harris last year at test cricket i donot see harris playing 2015 session he got 1 test vs sa to go asnd 3 vs PAK in uae in oct and 4 test match with in india in australian summer so he got 8 test match and he should retire after the end of 4 test series vs india ha is great bowler .

  • Rowayton on February 28, 2014, 4:32 GMT

    Harris has played 11 successive tests since July 2013. Any fast bowler would be likely to be struggling at the end of that. Nevertheless I'd keep him for Cape Town - because at his best he's a better bowler than the blokes who would replace him. Hopefully, the fact that he's on holiday (even if it is in a hospital) next week will put a spring back in his step for this one.

  • dummy4fb on February 28, 2014, 4:09 GMT

    Australia is trying to get out 7 SA batsmen. Smith, Amla, Fauf, Duminy, AB, and now Elgar plus Decock. Amla and AB are the world's best. Fauf has played monumental innings against Aus and India. Duminy is a fine player. So Aus should not overload the three-pacers. They are not in the same class as Mcgrath, Gillepsie, Lee, Fleming, etc. Also there was the greatest leggie ever - Shane warne. Against WI, Eng, NZ, and SA warney could do anything. So Aus must go in with extra bowlers. The Aussie batters are not in the same league as Ponting's, Taylor's, or Steve Waugh's teams. Thus Aus must get the balance right. So how about:

    Warner, Watson, Marsh, Clarke, Smith, Faulkner, Haddin, Jonhson, Harris, Siddle (or pattinson), Lyon

    You get 3 fast bowlers+ 2 all rounders + 1 spinner in bowling. Plus the part-time of smith, warner, and clarke.

    Drop Rogers because modern-day cricket is not about blocking only. The other option is not to play Faulkner but a pure batsman in place,

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on February 28, 2014, 3:04 GMT

    @Jagger-After his stellar showing in Ashes Siddle hardly needs talk self up-perf. do for him.You dont just chop 1 of top 5 quicks in world-injury apart-do you?Will walk in any team a.t.m-be 2nd pick for SA.And fits in as 3rd in worlds no.1 attack-Aus.

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