South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 5th day March 5, 2014

Where did Harris find the swing and strength?

Plain numbers will never explain how good Ryan Harris was in Cape Town, where he defied logic and a crocked knee to bowl Australia to a famous victory

#politeenquiries: Everything about Harris was out of this earth

There is something floating in Ryan Harris' knee. The medical community thinks it is bone. It's probably magic. Or a little pebble of awesomeness. Nothing else explains his last over.

In the overs before, Harris could barely bend over when fielding at gully. His hands were at the top of his thigh, not down near his knee in the customary position. When he walked, you were watching someone with osteoarthritis move, or someone who had done a whole day of rodeo. And when he stood up at the end of each ball you could hear the creaking all around the ground. Even his hip flexor had given out, possibly from the flexing he was doing more and more just to get by. Crocked. Stuffed. Finished. Another over was surely beyond him. Another Test might have been as well.

His job was to stay out on the ground to celebrate the potential Australian win. The win that they couldn't get. Vernon Philander's hand and Dale Steyn's bloody-mindedness were drawing the Test. Here were two forces.

One, the South Africans, they just refuse to lose a Test series. They're better when the primal need for survival has been put on them by their own shoddiness. This time, they had extra motivation with their captain, hero and leader on his last mission. They couldn't have done more to draw this game if they decided to dig actual trenches at the Kelvin Grove end. Against them was a very movable force. The fluid in Harris' knee was moving the bone quite often.

Australia thought they'd get eight or ten overs out of him in the entire second innings. The wicket of AB deVilliers was in his fifteenth. You should never call this dismissal anything as dismal as a wicket. It was a triumph of man over superman. De Villiers is currently batting like the laws of physics don't apply to him. It is as if he has learnt to see into the future and decides on his shot as the bowler is coming in. Getting him out in this form, with his assistance is virtually impossible. Getting him out without his assistance from a busted down old man who should be on crutches should be impossible. The only thing impossible was the Harris outswinger.

Ryan Harris winces in the face of impossible.

Today he winced from leg slip, slip, gully, short cover, or anywhere else you put the guy who stopped being able to move. But he kept coming back, more broken than before.

Tasmania had tried to break Queensland during the last Sheffield Shield final. They had prepared a pitch made of actual deserts. They batted in a coma. And then when Queendlsand tried to move the game on, they picked up enough wickets to lead by almost 200 runs after the first innings. In the first innings, Queensland had bowled 173.4 overs. Harris had bowled forty of those and taken three wickets.

But in the second innings, he just kept going in his opening spell. It seemed endless. Harris, and everyone watching or playing, knew that the only chance of a Queensland victory was with him. Tasmania collapsed under his pressure to 5 for 16. Harris bowled what felt like all the overs, he smashed the ball into this lifeless pitch, he demanded that the ball move for him, and he put his entire career in jeopardy by bowling 54 overs for his adopted state in a losing cause.

It seems that Harris just cannot quit. So why would he listen to his surgeon, his doctor, his physio, or anyone, when they said he couldn't bowl again. He hadn't ever listened to his body. Fast bowlers don't start international careers over 30 in already broken down bodies and take over a hundred wickets. But Harris wouldn't listen to modern medicine, he wouldn't listen to science, he wouldn't even listen to cricket stats.

It seems that Ryan Harris just cannot quit. So why would he listen to his surgeon, his doctor, his physio, or anyone, when they said he couldn't bowl again. He hadn't ever listened to his body. Fast bowlers don't start international careers over 30 in already broken down bodies and take over a hundred wickets

His second last over of the day looked like his last, well his last of any note. He bowled a short quick one that scared Steyn. It was quicker than his over the previous night where he bowled an over of Shane Watson-paced slower balls.

But he didn't look right. Instead of bashing through the crease like a Joe Frazier combination, steaming coming from his nose, his chest daring anyone to hit him, his legs were all over the place, and his fearsome torso looked attached to the wrong set of legs. His knee wasn't working, his hip was flexing poorly, and he was trying to play through it all and conquer a pitch that gave nothing.

On the second last ball, he slipped as he delivered. It looked, for the shortest of moments, like the injury that could end him today, tomorrow and forever. But he just went back to his mark and somehow got through the over. He was now noticeably limping. His action and run up was falling apart. He had surely bowled his last over, or at least, his last of anything approaching pace.

Nathan Lyon was tried, but had little luck. Watson came back on to wobble them about a bit. And had he wobbled them slightly better, or at least had Steyn playing at them, Harris might not have come back when he did.

When he came on, you couldn't shake the feeling that Ryan Harris shouldn't be bowling. Ryan Harris shouldn't be walking. Ryan Harris shouldn't be bowling Australia to victory. Ryan Harris shouldn't be running around the outfield having just taken the two final wickets in three balls. Ryan Harris should be with a surgeon, showing him how when he twists his knee, the bone clicks out of the bad bit and he can walk properly again.

Where did he find the swing or strength?

In the years to come it will read 24.3 overs, 15 maidens, 32 runs and four wickets. But unless it was written in synovial fluid, tears, bone, tendon and blood, no one will ever understand how good Ryan Harris was today. Whatever is in that knee, I hope they remove it, and get Ryan Harris fit again. Then I hope they show the removed item in a museum and schoolkids are bussed in to see it for years to come.

Jarrod Kimber was 50% of the Two Chucks, and is the mind responsible for

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 8, 2014, 12:49 GMT

    Shaggy076, spot on. The action of pace bowling is very unnatural, and puts considerable strain on multiple vulnerable joints and muscle groups of the body. I bowl at only 110-120kph depending on how I'm feeling, how smooth my runup+action are going etc, and I'm always sore for the next few days, putting up with a stiff neck, sore from the side of my chest to my forearm, aching legs, knees that I routinely have to click and I only play at club level. For proper athletes this is the same, except they are putting much more force on their bodies to reach over 130kph, and for those that are able to reach 140+kph (let alone the few that manage 150+kph), this is a HUGE strain, it's very difficult to manage this no matter what your conditioning. It is a role that is GUARANTEED to injure you, some people can cycle for years competitively and not get anywhere near the injuries, but you'll find pace bowlers with shoulder\knee reconstructions, I'd mention more but I only have 3 characters left.

  • Graham on March 8, 2014, 11:46 GMT

    India_Boy; YOu may have played some cricket but did you ever bowl over 140 k/hr. Bowling is the most unnatural action, I myself try to bowl as fast as possible and think I have clocked over the 100 k/hr on the odd occasion but bowling a ball at pace is just as taxing as a 100 meter sprint. It takes a lot of energy to release the ball at such velocity. Harris bowled 24.3 overs in that second innings that is 147 legit balls (havent looked whether any balls were wides or no balls) but the point is it is a massive stress on a body that was already hurt before he started. Yes Marathon running, cycling for over 40 hrs, football are taxing. Some areas in cricket are a lot less taxing but the role of a fast bowler is not one of those areas.

  • Cameron on March 7, 2014, 20:15 GMT

    India_boy: probably time to stop saying stuff. If you want wax lyrical about other sports go to other sports sites. This is a cricket site & an article dedicated to strain Ryan Harris has put his body through for many years. Most people here can appreciate that & enjoy the dedication & salute Kimber has provided to a warrior & all-round good bloke. Most people, except you.

    I've played lots of cricket too, "so I have a fair idea what I'm talking about" also

  • Dummy4 on March 7, 2014, 13:50 GMT

    Great article, to go with one of the best test series (certainly 3 test series) we've had for a long time (the greatest 3 test series ever? Probably still the 1988 West Indies v Pakistan series - Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh Imran, Wasim and Qadir among the bowlers - 6 all time greats). Among all the hype surrounding Mitch (who can go from worldbeater to total liability), it's easy to forget how good Ryan Harris actually is (100 wickets at an average slightly lower than Steyn's should remind you). Just a pity there aren't two more tests.

  • Sharath on March 7, 2014, 8:37 GMT

    The pain passes but the beauty remains. Outstanding article!

  • Dummy4 on March 7, 2014, 6:11 GMT

    Jarrod Kimber, take a bow along with Ryan Harris. You just keep outdoing yourself with your writing. Kudos.

  • Boddhayan on March 7, 2014, 5:33 GMT

    One of the best articles on Espncricinfo - an article which would inspire people to do the impossible. Ryano proved that as much as physical, cricket is a mental game too. When he came on, it was evident that Ryan Harris shouldn't be bowling or walking. Would he able to make the batsmen play? But the first delivery he bowled was a near perfect yorker, one the hardest deliveries to bowl in cricket, as you need tremendous skill plus effort to bowl one. The next delivery was a bit wide of Morkel, going down leg, but you could understand what his intention was. In the third ball of the over he got what he was looking to do - a delivery coming back to the left-hander, hitting the stumps. It was too good for No. 11 who has just come to the crease and was saving a test match. An incredible example where a human's mental strength has outgrown the physical hurdles. Kudos Ryan Harris.

  • Mohit on March 7, 2014, 5:11 GMT

    Everybody please calm down. On the outset, I'd like to apologise to anyone I may have unintentionally offended through my opinion. Secondly, I merely said that even the slightest injury in cricket attracts poetries and myths alike, whereas in other sports, injuries and physical stress much much harder go unnoticed merely because they're considered a part of the game. Cycling, marathon, basketball, football, athletics, gymnastics etc. put enormous strain on the body. I never said RH's effort wasn't epic, and I completely admire Aus/SA teams' culture and hard work ethics much more than my own team's, but my core implication was that cricket is a little lethargic compared to a few other sports and thus a little extra effort becomes the stuff of legends. And yes, I have played a lot of cricket, just like every other Indian, from chalk to foil cricket to leather ball cricket, so I have a fair idea what I'm talking about . Cricinfo I request you to publish this please

  • Rajesh on March 7, 2014, 4:10 GMT

    Ryan, you are an inspiration to any sportsman who wants to excel. In fact, you are an inspiration to mankind - you teach them how to fight all odds and be successful if you have the conviction, belief and desire. Hats off to you!!

  • Dummy4 on March 7, 2014, 3:58 GMT

    Go the South Aussies, Rhino and Boof, why we will be No.1 very, very soon