South Africa news June 21, 2011

Harris ready to fight for a recall

There is a side of Paul Harris not many people know. It's the side he is lying asleep on in his profile picture on a popular social networking site, with a tiny baby boy tucked into his arm. His young son, Aiden, is eight weeks old and Harris is spending the South African winter learning how to be a hands-on father. That side of Harris is not the side that is looking for a fight, but people probably don't know much about his aggressive side either.

Harris has been South Africa's defensive spinner in Test cricket for the last four years. The nature of his role called for little confrontation, he usually had to hold up an end and dry up runs. For 37 matches, he did that, earning criticism from some sides, but always the praise of his captain, Graeme Smith and his team-mates and taking 103 wickets in the process.

In January this year, Pakistani-born legspinner Imran Tahir became eligible to play for South Africa. A month later, Tahir had played one ODI, against the West Indies in the World Cup and was awarded a national contract. At the same time, Harris lost his. "I was quite surprised when I lost my national contract," he told ESPNCricinfo. "I was told they [CSA] were looking for a more attacking bowler, but I can't say there is any bad blood between us."

That explanation means that Harris is faced with the very real possibility of not playing international cricket again and that prospect is what is going to make his fighting side emerge. "I was offered a Kolpak contract about a month ago but I turned it down because I definitely still want to play for South Africa," he said. In a bid to prove his worth, Harris has left the Lions franchise and gone back to the Titans, where he played when he was first selected for the national team.

There, he formed part of a duel-spinner line-up, where, ironically, Tahir was his spin twin. "When Richard Pybus was coaching us, Imran and I bowled a lot together and we won a few trophies." The Titans won the SuperSport Series three times under Pybus with Harris and Tahir as key bowlers in their attack. Pybus now coaches the Cobras and Tahir has moved to the Dolphins, but Harris hopes to combine with Roelof van der Merwe in similar fashion to the way he did with Tahir.

"I really want to help Roelof with his four-day game, which is one of the reasons I am going back to the Titans," Harris said. van der Merwe has been a regular in the limited-overs line-ups but has not had a consistent run at first-class level. Of the pair, van der Merwe is without doubt the more aggressive, which probably means Harris will have to play a holding role again. That's exactly the point he is trying to make to the national selectors, that the function of a defensive bowler cannot be underestimated. "The thing is that if you have Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Tahir, they are all attacking so there is no-one to hold up the other end and that's also important."

Andrew Hudson, convenor of selectors agrees. "We will need someone to keep the other end tight," he said. "Now we have to decide if that will be a second spinner or a third seamer." If they go with a third seamer, it cannot be Jacques Kallis, with the focus on managing the all-rounder. Lonwabo Tsotsobe may be tasked with the donkey work or it may be shared between part-time spinners JP Duminy and someone like Jacques Rudolph.

The selectors could do worse than turn to Harris, who understands and accepts the job, albeit not the most glamorous one, well. "I really enjoyed the role," he said. "And I think I could do it again, particularly on the subcontinent, where two spinners is a real option." The truth is that Harris will do the job on any pitch, home or away, as long as he given the chance.

Hudson has not ruled that out. "The door is definitely not shut on him, I still think he has a lot of cricket left in him," he said. "But emergence of Imran Tahir and some really good performances by spinners at the World Cup has made things a little more difficult for Paul." New bowling coach Allan Donald also believes Harris isn't finished yet. "Paul Harris has some real competition, but it's a good thing. It means he has to fight for his place in the side."

It's a battle Harris is ready for come the start of the next season. For now, though, he is enjoying his time with Aiden. "I'm being a real at home pops," he said proudly, but his voice gave away that hint of hope that maybe by the time the summer comes, he won't have to be.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rob on June 24, 2011, 21:42 GMT

    Harris has been a dominant force in provincial cricket for a good few years and expect him to be picking up a bucketfull of wickets in the coming SA domestic season. Peterson and Botha won't ever last long in the test team and before long an international batting line up will take apart Tahir. It wouldn't come as a great surprise to see Harris back in national test XI within eighteen months. He's a very decent under rated bowler.

  • Khizr on June 22, 2011, 10:05 GMT

    A good problem to have for SA as a team. It makes it tough for Harris, who has performed well so far. CSA should play more cricket if they have so many good players and rest a few of them for some tournaments. Also, ICC should encourage overflows from SA, India, Pakistan (Afridi, Harris, Younus Khan, etc) to play for associates to help them raise their game. Good luck Paul, hope to see you again in international cricket soon. Play for USA.

  • Irshad on June 22, 2011, 8:52 GMT

    Its a very very bad decision by the selectors. Paul Harris has always fulfilled the task given to him by his captain. He has been dropped not only from the team but the central contractees. And that too for a spinner who hasn't yet been tested in the international arena. I agree that Tahir is a good bowler,but First Class cricket and the test matches are different bowl game altogether. All the very Best Paul.Hope to see u around very soon.

  • Ross on June 22, 2011, 7:42 GMT

    In South Africa, the holding role will go to a seamer. I'd rather see someone who can be attacking if the conditions are helpful. If Duminy wants to cement a test place over Prince, he needs to start doing some donkey work bowling tightly.

  • jeremy on June 22, 2011, 5:27 GMT

    i think ppl are being abit harsh..harry has done a very decent job for SA..there was no reason to drop him, esp since tahir is so new to int'l cricket.he still merits his national contract...i really hope hudson and company do not go down the road of the aussie selectors and axe ppl based on age rather than merit, and become heartless.

  • al on June 22, 2011, 1:05 GMT

    @Arthaurian: Well said. Most modern spinners are getting blunted that way. Probably some spinners should just play Test (and maybe T20 for money - so they don't feel cheated) and avoid any T20I and ODIs.

  • Eoin on June 21, 2011, 20:38 GMT

    Harry, a spinner that attacks automatically plays a holding role. In test match cricket there is no time limit, what if there are no runs to protect and the only way to win a test match is to bowl a side out. I completely disagree with holding roles in test match cricket. t20 and 50 over cricket is where you can hold...

  • Dummy4 on June 21, 2011, 17:24 GMT

    With Steyn, Morkel and Tahir that is an extremely potent bowling line up. Also Kallis is very consistent with the ball. Tsotsobe is a very good ONE DAY bowler, but doesnt seem to have the firepower to rattle too many batsman in test cricket. I definetely would never play harris again now that Tahir is available and playing a 2nd spinner is silly when u have steyn and morkel around he won't be needed. If SA can find that 3rd frontline seamer for test cricket they will be set. Kallis doesnt need to be overburdened he is getting old he should still be 5th bowler but shouldnt be doing more then 12-14 overs an innings realistically. India, england and india all looking great in tests at the moment lets see if india can stay number 1 with a much weaker bowling attack then the others.

  • Dummy4 on June 21, 2011, 16:37 GMT

    There is no way he can still be on the radar for second spinner role, he has done well in his role in the past, but the way Botha and Peterson bowled in the multi-spinner conditions in the sub-continent, along with the emergence of Tahir man he must be behind all three of them, and specifically behind Botha and Peterson for the second spinner role. And arguably even further with the developing all-round skills of Duminy and Du Plessis

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