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March 5, 2014
If Ryan Harris never bowls again, he will be immortalised as Australia's hero of Newlands, conjurer of the last two wickets on one functioning leg and another months overdue for the surgeon's knife. But he has vowed to return after that extensive knee surgery, expressing his desire to again experience the elation that washed over him and the rest of the touring team as they won the match and the series over South Africa with a mere 27 balls to spare.
By merely being in South Africa, Harris had already delayed his hospital check-in date. He felt increasing discomfort in his knee across a wildly successful Ashes at home, where he was instrumental in the securing of the 5-0 sweep. His difficulties increased across the tour, and were further compounded by a hip ailment so painful that he was unsure if he could even bowl in the second innings.
But Harris has awed his teammates for some time with his ability to fight his way through pain barriers that would rule out any other player, and he did so again in their hour of need in Cape Town. His bowling on the final day went well beyond any expectations, as team management had reckoned him capable of only another 8-10 overs. Harris ended the match in his 25th.
"Yesterday I didn't think I was going to bowl another over to be honest," Harris said. "I had a bit of a niggle in the hip flexor which was quite sore. A bit of painful treatment yesterday and last night got me up and going this morning. Now it's worth it with the win, but it's something I had to get through and got through okay. The doc [Peter Brukner] was dry needling me, I think I had 30-odd mills [of fluid] drained out of my knee yesterday as well which wasn't great. But it's all worth it now. To get through that and come out on top, it's worth all that pain.
"It was ridiculously sore, but a couple of Panadeine Fortes helped, and dulled the pain a bit. If the captain tells you to bowl you need to bowl, especially Test matches like that, that's our job to win Test matches, but when you've got bowlers at the other end like Mitch, if you say no then it would have been embarrassing."
Harris had already gone beyond his limits by defeating AB de Villiers with the second new ball. But his penultimate over in the final session had all the hallmarks of a last failing effort. He had made Dale Steyn play at only two of six balls, and was withdrawn by the captain Michael Clarke. At this point, Harris felt he was finished, but resolved to be willing should Clarke call again. Desperate for a wicket, he did.
"I thought I was done," Harris said. "I wasn't sure, I thought Michael would turn to me and say 'I need you to bowl two or three'. I was hoping he wasn't going to say that because I was feeling a bit sore, but when he turned to me and said 'can you give me three' I wasn't going to say no. All the pain I went through last night and the night before is all worth it now.
"All I know is I was trying to bowl as fast as I could. I didn't even know I'd bowled Steyn until the boys celebrated. Personally it was great to get through it, the pain threshold. To be honest, the knee wasn't much of a factor today it was more the other thing, but as a team it was getting close. I thought we really deserved the win. Mitch and Patto bowled really well, Mitch bowled 30 overs which is really ridiculous for a quick, but to get through and win it was all worth it.
"There was a spell where I think at times I was really struggling to get to the wicket. I was working on different ways to run. I haven't really run with a proper running action because the knee won't let me fully extend my leg. I worked out ways of trying to dull the pain, some balls were really painful and some weren't. I had to keep going and if Michael said to me I had to bowl I had to bowl, simple as that, it's my job."
Now, Harris' job is to get fit again in time for next summer. The coach Darren Lehmann wants to keep him operational until the Ashes in England in 2015, and Harris is adamant that he will push for that goal. Moments like Newlands have provided him with the greatest possible incentive.
"I get back Friday, have a couple of days at home and head down to Melbourne on Monday and have it done Tuesday," he said. "I've got a few bone spurs rubbing on my PCL and ACL so they'll shave a bit of that off, and apparently because they're shaving bone it's going to be quite tender for a bit. It's not exactly a clean-out, it's a bit more than that - hopefully get rid of the bone that's floating around in there which is the one I keep unlocking every now and then.
"It's going to take a bit of time, but I've worked out we've got five and a half months I think before hopefully Zimbabwe if I'm considered for one-day stuff then hopefully Dubai. I've got plenty of time so the first 10 days I'll be feet up and on crutches and then go from there. The good thing is living in Brisbane I've got the NCC with all the facilities there waiting for me, and the physios and everything up there so I've got the best people there looking after me.
"I'm bloody going to enjoy a break, I can tell you that. But knowing that, it's going to take a lot of hard work to get up and going again. I've said all along that long breaks aren't good for me but this is an enforced one and it's something I'm looking forward to. Coming into this series I was a little bit underdone fitness wise, I need a good pre-season to build up some strength. My right quad, which I need to be strong is really small - it needs to be be big and I've got a lot of time to do that now. I want to keep playing here as long as I can - moments like today, there's nothing better."
Clarke, for one, cannot wait for Harris' return. "Ryan is one of a kind, he will run through a brick wall for me and for this team," the grateful captain said. "He seems once he gets on the field the pain is gone, I don't know what he has done to himself, I don't know how bad it is. He just seems to find a way, you ask him to bowl he will bowl, he's got no energy left his body is killing him he will find a way to take a wicket for us.
"As captain you can't ask for more and that's where I am extremely fortunate with this team, no matter what the results are going forward, we will lose a lot of games, lets hope we will win a lot of games as well but I have players in this team who will jump off a bridge for me."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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