South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 3rd day

Harris revives memories of Merv

Ryan Harris' willingness to exert himself on this tour to South Africa, despite his badly deteriorating knee, and his effectiveness through the pain on day three in Cape Town, take one back to Merv Hughes and the 1993 Ashes

Daniel Brettig in Cape Town

March 3, 2014

Comments: 26 | Text size: A | A

Ryan Harris fires down a delivery, South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 3rd day, March 3, 2014
Perfection can be fleeting, but every so often Ryan Harris locates it © Getty Images
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Among the more courageous chapters in the saga of Australian fast bowling concerns Merv Hughes on the 1993 Ashes tour. To carry a few extra kilograms on his mincing run to the wicket was typical for Hughes, but to do so while also nursing an injured and painful right knee was not. Allan Border's Australians had lost Craig McDermott during the Lords Test, and it was Hughes who led the pace attack, wonky knee and all, through six Tests and 31 wickets. By the time the tour reached The Oval, Hughes was struggling to walk, let alone bowl. The damage to his knee was such that he only played two more Tests, the last at Newlands the following year.

Two decades later and Hughes was on hand in Cape Town to witness what may or may not be another valedictory display by a stout-hearted fast man with a degenerative knee. Like Hughes, Ryan Harris put off the requirement of surgery to be a part of a major series, and has fought through considerable pain and increasing signs of deterioration in the joint to play his role. There were times during the second Test in Port Elizabeth that Harris might have pushed his body a match or tour too far, and he admitted to doubting himself ahead of the decider. But he stirred back to venomous life on day three at Newlands, delivering spells that he and Hughes will both remember.

For much of the time between Tests, Harris wondered whether or not he would be granted another match. His accuracy had deserted him on occasions in Centurion and Port Elizabeth, notably with a tendency to begin spells by dropping short. His knee was locking up more often due to the loose bone and cartilage floating around it, requiring him to stop in his run-up and kick it back into place on an unpleasantly frequent basis. While Harris will tend to downplay the issue, his fellow fast man Mitchell Johnson offered gruesome evidence that this is far from a minor niggle.

"You'll be sitting up in the viewing room when we're batting and he'll go 'feel this' and it'll be a little bit of bone in his knee," Johnson said. "You're a freak to be able to keep going [in that condition]. He's mentally strong and physically strong and it definitely pushes everyone along. It puts your little niggles to the back of the room, because if he can get through that, you should be able to get through anything as well. He should be an inspiration to a lot of fast bowlers out there and upcoming fast bowlers as well."

As his bowling coach, McDermott watched Harris' looming doubts and suspicions that his bowling action was getting ragged and his wrist position less than perfect, precluding him from summoning swing. Like Michael Clarke with the bat, Harris wished to bowl an extra session on the team's nominated day off earlier this week. Instead he was counselled to rest, relax and get cricket off his mind. McDermott offered the opinion that any issues with his action were the result of a heavy workload at St George's Park after the tourists were bowled out cheaply in their first-innings reply to a stolidly built South African total.

Nevertheless, Harris still turned up to bowl at training on the day before the Test, something almost unheard of in the present day and a testament to his desire for improvement. "I actually gave him a bit of stick because he came to training the day before and normally fast bowlers don't turn up to the optional session," Johnson said. "So he works extremely hard and he was quite frustrated at the way he'd been bowling. We all thought he'd been bowling fine, but he's a perfectionist."

Perfection can be fleeting, but every so often Harris locates it, whether first ball to Alastair Cook in Perth last year, or when utilising reverse swing to savage effect against Hashim Amla in his second spell on day three. Early on Harris had found a modicum of conventional bend against Graeme Smith, shaping a few deliveries in - including one that was wrongly referred for an lbw appeal - while also seaming others away. The projectile that flicked Smith's outside edge was a classy one - it had precision in line, length and movement - but it was a mere entrée for the Amla rocket.

Australia's pursuit of reverse swing was far more concerted than in Port Elizabeth, utilising Johnson's ability to land the ball on the leather rather than the seam to good effect. It was not yet 30 overs old when Harris began to gain some alarming hoop, beating Amla completely as he played outside the swerve. Johnson called it a "Steyn ball", after Dale's stump-pluckers to Brad Haddin - the only difference here was that the wickets were splayed rather than flattened. Harris confessed to feeling like a mere bowling machine against Amla at St George's Park; here he was Pro-Batter set to 11. The next ball almost cut Faf du Plessis in two.

Less spectacular but equally notable was Harris' deconstruction of JP Duminy, another thorn in Australia in Port Elizabeth. A series of old-ball inswingers had Duminy conditioned to expect the ball curling towards him, making the delivery angled across doubly dangerous. Watched in isolation, the edge looked profligate. But watching the whole over, it made far more sense. Subtle movement both ways has always been a prime element of the Harris method. It was far too good for Duminy, the 99th Test victim of a masterful practitioner.

Australia's progress was interrupted for a time by du Plessis and Vernon Philander, forcing Harris back for stints that came close to wickets without quite delivering. His 100th wicket in Tests will have to wait until the second innings, the final stop on a 12-Test journey that began at Lord's more than seven months ago. Harris often sets himself the goal of being on the plane with his team-mates at the end of a tour rather than an early casualty, and in South Africa he has managed it once more. The cost of these exertions will not truly be known until Harris checks in with his surgeon later in the month, and it may be steep. But as Hughes can attest, victory will be worth the pain.

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

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Posted by Rufus_Fuddleduck on (March 5, 2014, 16:44 GMT)

He perhaps might not play a test in his career again but after such a second innings performance against one of the best sides of the world it is proved that he has sportsmanspirit. Just very sad because I wanted to see him and Mitchell to bowl one of the best bowling spells in Test history. With such talent, temperament and commitment, only his knee will stop him from becoming one of the best fast bowlers. But a salute to him......

Posted by andrew-schulz on (March 4, 2014, 7:24 GMT)

MRiaz, how old was Harris when Blocker Wilson played his one and only Test? Work it out mate. When Harris was 24 he was bowling pies for SA. Many fast bowlers click at about 30. Jonesy, Australia has a brilliant bowling coach now.

Posted by Le_Jeu on (March 4, 2014, 7:23 GMT)

Harris is such an impact player but sadly without longevity. Crossing fingers he can stay fit for longer and I can watch him live in England in Ashes 2015.

Posted by PFEL on (March 4, 2014, 7:03 GMT)

@mriaz001, you really wonder why it took Australian selectors till Harris was 30 to pick him??? Because he wasn't very good until then mate!!!!

Posted by riaz.m on (March 4, 2014, 6:26 GMT)

I really wonder why it took Australian selectors till Harris was 30 to pick him when most fast bowlers are almost a spent force at that age. I can only imagine the horror he would have been to face at 24.Its not like that Australia were blessed with fast bowlers in the last 10 years what with the trundlers like Bollinger and Wilson and James Hopes being given many chances.

Posted by PrasPunter on (March 4, 2014, 6:23 GMT)

@jonesy2 , I am hoping after hope that Rhino has a successful surgery and comes back as fit as ever !! Positive messages work wonders !! All the best Rhino !!

Posted by   on (March 4, 2014, 6:02 GMT)

Ryan Harris - you are a true champion buddy! Hope your knee holds up for a super display in the second innings. Best wishes.

Posted by jonesy2 on (March 4, 2014, 5:57 GMT)

ryan goes down as a legend I don't think we will see much more from him after this test match but you never know he could get a new lease post surgery. I would employ him as bowling coach if he cant play though

Posted by Ragav999 on (March 4, 2014, 2:24 GMT)

Absolute legend of Aussie cricket. It took great honesty and courage from him before the game to admit what he did in the media. He was too honest if anything and kudos to everyone in the team who supported and encouraged him after the first two tests.

Posted by Benkl on (March 4, 2014, 2:10 GMT)

Worth remembering the turn around for Australia happened when Rhino was re selected in England . Despite not many matches he has an average like Steyn and doesnt get many tail enders.

Posted by balajik2505 on (March 4, 2014, 1:24 GMT)

I think this is the first time he has played so many matches on the trot. What he has brought to the table is what the Aussies have been missing during the last 5 odd years. He is the leader of this Aussie attack. Johnson may take more wickets, but it is Harris who is the leader. Australia would do well to preserve him and use him judiciously.

Posted by Jagger on (March 4, 2014, 1:08 GMT)

I rate him as one of the finest fast bowlers we've ever seen. Lillee, McGrath, Harris, Warnie. That'll do me just fine.

Posted by   on (March 4, 2014, 0:48 GMT)

As someone who had the same sort of knee injury as Harris ambling in to bowl a couple of overs of innocuous "spin" left me hobbling for days afterwards. How he bowls fast through Test and First Class matches leaves me in awe.

Posted by mrhamilton on (March 4, 2014, 0:05 GMT)

This writer seems to reside on a different planet to the rest of us .Harris bowled excellantly in both the first two tests,brettig seems to think Harris's position was under threat.I seem to recall he thought Chris there's position was under threat too recently. I detest this kind of nonsense

Posted by Rowayton on (March 3, 2014, 23:06 GMT)

Loved the Duminy wicket. Mentioned to the person I was viewing with that "Harris will get Duminy caught nicking this over", and sure enough. Just thought I'd mention it as I get one prediction right about every decade. Great effort from Rhino - he is an inspirational player. Hope he takes up a selection role after finishing - he really seems to be a good judge of a batsman's strengths and weaknesses.

Posted by dillyk on (March 3, 2014, 22:55 GMT)

As a saffer got give my respect to harris.. great skill, dedication, determination and a smart thinking cricketer who plays the game in right spirit.. what is there not to respect & admire...... maybe warner can learn a thing or two from his example Would be nice if harris dished up some more half volley's and less amla jaffers

Posted by Moppa on (March 3, 2014, 22:42 GMT)

What a combination - guts and class! I hope Harris doesn't follow the Hughes script too closely and has more than two Tests left in his career. But, not taking any risks - I hope he jags that 100th wicket this match before he goes under the knife.

Posted by Sir_Francis on (March 3, 2014, 22:37 GMT)

we are lucky to have Harris but I take exception to the comparison with Hughes. (Like me), Hughes was 30 Kg overweight. If he'd been fit like Harris (& his partner McDermott) he wouldn't have had so much knee pain and would have taken another 100 wickets. He wasn't dedicated enough. And that was a shame.

Posted by 45runs on (March 3, 2014, 22:33 GMT)

I have nothing to add to what has already been written. You are a champion, Rhino. Regardless of the result, I pray you get to take your 100th wicket in SA's second dig.

Posted by   on (March 3, 2014, 21:42 GMT)

Never gives up this boy. On the other other hand, dale steyn can't bowl because if a tight hamstring. While his team is struggling getting wickets, he was in the pavilion sipping on tea. Good leadership steyn.

Posted by disco_bob on (March 3, 2014, 21:39 GMT)

This is just a stupendous superhuman effort from Harris, the Aussie team looks like they want to win this series so bad that I would not bet against them taking SA out a second time. At worst SA will continue their 45 year run not winning a series against Australia at home, but that is not going to satisfy Australia. In the same way, Australia *needed* to win the Ashes 5-0 and I think this series win is as important to them.

Posted by   on (March 3, 2014, 20:20 GMT)

Great article about a great player; Ryan Harris, you really are a champion, and I honestly believe you have the heart of a rhino! Dedication, determination, skill, pace and control - what more could a captain ask for from a fast bowler? Australia is very lucky to have you, and your courage is greatly appreciated.

Posted by Madpashcrickers on (March 3, 2014, 19:57 GMT)

As was alluded to in the article, he should be an inspiration to a lot of fast bowlers - it's a glorious art but bloody hard work and you have to put your body on the line for it. Amongst those who need such inspiration I'm thinking particularly of England's default seam attack aka The Undroppables - blokes who are capable of a bit more than trundling if they had the desire and the courage to do so, but most often happy to turn up and trundle and 'save' themselves. Give me a Harris any day over our lot, Steyn is another who can still crank it way beyond 11 even when he's not fully fit, and this is one of the main reasons why Australia vs South Africa is producing such compelling and superb cricket compared to the insipid fare served up by England which rightly saw them brushed aside in the The Ashes.

Posted by   on (March 3, 2014, 19:49 GMT)

Rhino. An Australian great. Id love the privelege of meeting this guy. Well - most of the Aussies really, but the great gritty ones like Harris are special.

Posted by choo_for_twenty_choo on (March 3, 2014, 19:26 GMT)

In Ryano, like Merv, we have the makings of a true bowling legend. Can't help but salute a marvellous, courageous and stunningly executed back to back test series. He is such a competitor that if he legs totally gave out, I wouldn't write him off continuing his bowling run up from the confined of a wheelchair!

Posted by Chris_P on (March 3, 2014, 19:17 GMT)

Rhino Harris is a true warrior, hats off to him.

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Daniel BrettigClose
Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
Tour Results
South Africa v Australia at Centurion - Mar 14, 2014
Australia won by 6 wickets (with 30 balls remaining)
South Africa v Australia at Durban - Mar 12, 2014
Australia won by 5 wickets (with 2 balls remaining)
South Africa v Australia at Port Elizabeth - Mar 9, 2014
Match abandoned without a ball bowled
South Africa v Australia at Cape Town - Mar 1-5, 2014
Australia won by 245 runs
South Africa v Australia at Port Elizabeth - Feb 20-23, 2014
South Africa won by 231 runs
More results »
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