Harris in serious doubt for third Test
Ryan Harris, the Australia fast bowler, is in considerable doubt for the third Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo after scans revealed a minor hamstring strain sustained on the final day of the second Test in Pallekele. Having taken six wickets for the match, Harris, 31, complained of hamstring stiffness and left the field towards the end of play on the fifth day, with subsequent examinations confirming some damage had been sustained.
"It showed there was a minor strain in one of the muscles in my hammy," Harris said. "It's probably not the news we're after but I'm getting constant treatment. We'll see what happens in the next day or two. There's got to be some doubt because something showed up.
"I'm obviously pretty keen to play but going in I am a risk. If Michael [Clarke] is happy to take me in with a slight risk then I'll give it 100%. It's a pretty big game so if not I'll sit out and do as I'm told."
Harris said he felt pain in his hamstring on the fourth day of the Pallekele Test itself but continued bowling with it as it wasn't acute. "I'm a fast bowler so I bowl with stiffness every day. Walking around I don't feel it, it's not there at all. I felt it probably in the first or second step of my delivery stride; there was a bit of a twinge but it wasn't enough to make me grab it or have to stop.
"I guess the fear is pushing it too hard; I could potentially rip it further and it would become a two-month thing rather than, as it as at the moment, something that requires a week or two of recovery time."
Harris' absence would be a serious blow to Australia's chances of securing a series victory in Sri Lanka, as he has taken 11 wickets for the series at the startling average of 14.54 and a strike rate of 36, consistently troubling the hosts with the new ball and also posing plenty of problems by reverse-swinging the old one.
Should Harris be ruled out, his place would likely be taken by one of the Victorian duo of Peter Siddle or James Pattinson. Siddle is the more experienced quick but Pattinson has also impressed many on the tour with his speed and swing. Harris said either man could do the job.
"I know the guys who haven't been playing have been in the nets every day; they're ready to go if they're needed. As a bowling group, we've put Sri Lanka under pressure and tied down their runs. In those periods we've taken wickets to keep the pressure on them so I'm pretty confident we can continue that."
The scheduling of three back-to-back Tests was always going to be difficult for Harris on his return to Test cricket after he missed the first third of 2011 with an ankle fracture sustained in the Melbourne Ashes Test. Harris must also manage degenerative right knee trouble, an ailment that has caused him to question his longevity in the game more than once. So attuned has Harris become to the task of managing his knee, and preparing himself mentally for the day when it can't support his bowling action any longer, that it is currently troubling him less than other instances of wear and tear.
"I didn't expect it to be anything but my knee. With my knee, the more I do the better it seems to get. Even having two days off now it gets sore not doing anything. It's disappointing because I've done a fair bit of work to be nice and strong again and something minor like this [the hamstring strain] has upset it. I've had a good pre-season in the gym, I've got my legs probably strong as I've ever had them, and the rest of me felt good; I dropped some weight too."
Harris confronts cricket mortality with the same frankness and honesty that is serving him so well at the bowling crease. He said he wants to play international cricket for another three years, and that he would like to play as many matches as the team required him to in that period.
"I don't want the selectors to feel that I'm a Test-by-Test proposition. I came over here to play three Test matches. They probably had it in the back of their minds that maybe three back-to-back Tests were going to be tough for me. But every tour I go on, if it's a three or five-match tour, I'm aiming to play all the games.
"Last summer, going into the Ashes, I did at the back of mind consider that I may have to retire by the end of the series. But the more I did, the better my knee got. I don't want to be looked upon as getting special treatment and picking the Test matches I play."
Special treatment has, however, become more necessary the better Harris has bowled for Australia. Despite the results he has got in Sri Lanka, Harris thinks he can improve.
"This is going to sound silly, but I still don't feel 100% when I'm bowling. The good thing is I'm still putting the ball in a good spot and getting wickets. I've probably been down on getting consistent pace, but bowling fast is not always a great thing on these wickets in Sri Lanka. It's putting it in the right spot and letting the ball move around.
Harris has proven himself capable of the versatility of the best bowlers, using a fuller length than normal in Sri Lanka to stunning effect. He has occasionally checked himself, wondering if he is bowling half-volleys, but the advice of captains and team-mates has kept him pitching it up in search of swing and seam.
"Something I worked on before I got over here, and talked about when I first got here, was bowling a bit fuller on these wickets. It is something that Tim Nielsen [the Australia coach] and Craig [McDermott, Australia's bowling coach] have really drilled into me. Bowling short of a length over here it sort of sits up a bit more."
Should Harris keep his body together, his next assignment will be in South Africa on wickets that will be more than suitable to his skills. It is a prospect he relishes.
"I've watched plenty of Test cricket over there and the ball goes through a bit quicker with the altitude. It will be exciting to play international cricket in a place I haven't before. I've played the IPL over there but it'll be nice to get over there and play against another quality international side."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo