Harris comfortable with holding role against India
Paul Harris is happy to play a containing role during South Africa's upcoming Test series against India. With the hosts aiming to prepare lively pitches for all three matches, starting on December 16 in Centurion, it's expected that the pace bowlers will shoulder most of the wicket-taking responsibility.
"I'm comfortable in a holding role. If Dale [Steyn] and Morne [Morkel] are getting us wickets and winning the match then I'm ok with keeping things tight at the other end," Harris told ESPNcricinfo. "In Durban, in particular, that will be my job."
Harris is hopeful that the other two wickets, in Centurion and Cape Town, may present him with a small window of opportunity to join the attacking party. "In South Africa, at the moment, it's becoming difficult to prepare exceptionally bouncy wickets. SuperSport Park and Newlands will definitely have something for the quicks but don't forget that spinners also enjoy a bit of bounce." Harris has enjoyed success on both those wickets last year, taking a five-for against England at SuperSport Park in December last year and recording a career best 6 for 127 against Australia at Newlands in March.
India will be a completely different prospect. "The Indian batsmen have done well against spin which means I will probably have to set more defensive fields for them," Harris said. He has had experience in keeping the Indian batsmen quiet in Nagpur in February when he bowled 38 overs in the second innings at an economy rate of two to a close-set field. Three wickets sprouted from that spell and Harris was the unsung hero of the innings-and-six-run victory.
In the next test, in Kolkata, he persisted with a leg side line that saw him concede too many wides. His strategy was used to prevent the Indian batsmen from targeting him, as they have done with opposition spinners from Muttiah Muralitharan to Nathan Hauritz. Now, Harris has had a change of heart and wants to be picked on. "I hope they attack me. It was very frustrating against Pakistan when they didn't play a shot against me. If they take me on, there's more chance that I'll get a wicket."
The one Indian batsman Harris is most looking forward to bowling to is Sachin Tendulkar. "It's a really big thing for me to bowl at him because who would have thought a boy from Kommetjie [near Cape Town] would bowl against Tendulkar. What's even better is that I think the score between us is quite even: I've got him out a few times and he's scored a few runs against me." Harris dismissed Tendulkar two out of three times in the two-Test series in India earlier this year.
Even though Tendulkar's wicket is important to Harris, he has set no specific targets about which batsmen he would like to get out in the upcoming series and wants to focus on the role of keeping the big hitters at bay while being true to his own game. "When a spinner gets hit it always looks like it's the end of the world. If it happens to me, it happens. If I get the ball in the right areas and it still happens, I don't mind. It just means the batsmen were better than me on the day."
Harris' goal is to avoid a situation where he is the worse player on the day and for that, he has stuck to his usual training routine before a big series. "I am the kind of bowler that needs to bowl a lot to do well. That sort of training requires a lot of patience. Luckily, I have that. My wife says I don't have patience with anything except bowling."
Some of that patience involves dealing with the constant stream of criticism that comes Harris' way, most notably the calls for a more attacking spinner to be included in the South Africa line-up. Imran Tahir, who has not yet been cleared to play for South Africa, is one of the names being bandied about, as is Harris' former Titans team-mate Roelof van der Merwe. Harris is not overly defensive of his position and is confident that he will retain it. "I think I have done enough to prove myself. If someone else gets picked, good for him. I don't think I've let anyone down and I've repaid the confidence the selectors have shown in me."
Having come a long way in Test cricket since he made his debut against India in 2007 in Cape Town, Harris has learnt to adopt a zen-like attitude. "I only worry about what I can control. You have to have a thick skin and I've been around long enough to get one." Over the years Harris has come to expect people to write him off and he is willing to quietly go about proving them wrong, whether that means taking wickets or playing a more silent, strangling role.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent