<
>

Marcus Harris in Perth: the return of the prodigal son

play
Introducing Marcus Harris, Australia's newest Test cricketer (1:28)

From precocious 18-year-old with flashes of brilliance to run machine for Victoria, Marcus Harris has taken the scenic route to the national side (1:28)

Upon hearing Marcus Harris has joked that his name could be "Marcus David Langer Rogers", Neil Holder lets out a belly laugh. Harris' combination of physical attributes and technical quirks has drawn an enormous number of comparisons to David Warner, Justin Langer and Chris Rogers to name but three, and it is Holder who knows best how the 26-year-old came to closely resemble Australia's coach in particular.

As a longtime batting mentor at Scarborough in Perth club cricket, "Noddy" Holder has long been a key figure for Langer, honing his technique and mindset while serving as a close confidant as well. But he baulks at taking direct credit for Harris and instead outlines the path of shared coaches and club rooms that has left Harris playing the "light sabre leave" to balls outside off stump that Langer made such a trademark during a long and celebrated career.

"When I coached Marcus he was a young tacker, and Richard Daly I coached when he was younger," Holder told ESPNcricinfo. "Richard played with Justin, I coached Justin but they also played together at Scarborough. Richard took over Marcus' physical preparation and technical preparation and pretty much developing him in his young life. So I'd say the similarities would be more so the basic coaching dynamics or simplicity of hitting balls.

"That would've been carried on through when Justin was plying at Scarborough and Marcus was there, so he's obviously looked up to him like most people watch their heroes, coupled with Richard Daly having a very similar batting method as I coached Richard and passed it on. I think that's the connection rather than a direct influence. As much as I'd like to claim Harry's skill set, I think it's more once removed from that."

Harris' return to Perth to play his second Test match is weighty with meaning for many, given his close association with the likes of Holder, Langer and also Cameron Bancroft, who once displaced him for a spot in the Western Australia Sheffield Shield side but now must watch under suspension as the left-hander stakes his own claim. On debut in Adelaide, Harris immediately looked the part, much as he did when starting out as a teenager for the Warriors. The key for him, and those around him, will be to ensure he builds on the dual scores of 26 with innings of greater heft to match his obvious skill. An inability to do so had been part of his thinking in moving from Perth to Melbourne and a contract with Victoria in 2016.

"I know if you start to feel too confident you can get carried away a little bit and lose your way," Harris said. "But you always doubt yourself as a person, you're not sure if you're going to fit in Test cricket or if you're going to be too far out of your depth. So I didn't feel out of my depth at all, but I realised pretty quickly they don't bowl any crap and they don't miss any chances that you give them, so you've got to be switched on from ball one.

play
4:39

Langer family has always been close to us - Kim Harris

Marcus Harris' father, Kim, speaks about his son's debut knock, Marcus' career so far and his relationship with Australia coach Justin Langer

"But I felt like my game stood up to it, it's probably just a decision-making thing and being able to occupy the crease for long periods of time. But I didn't feel like I was out of my depth at all. The biggest doubt going into your first Test is whether you can hang around for a little while and score runs. So, it was good to spend time in the middle in both innings.

"Obviously, I didn't get the scores that I would have liked but it has given me great confidence to be able to bat a decent period of time and occupy the crease for a bit. I worked hard in between the first and second innings on some plans against Ravi Ashwin and that was really good. Now I'm just working on guys coming around the wicket and stuff like that, to work on plans India will use against me."

Looking on from Perth, Holder has felt for some time that Harris would be a player of Test match calibre, based largely upon a simple and elegant method that follows the line of the ball, rather than opening up the body in search of more power after the fashion of so many Big Bash League hitters. It was showcased by a two-ball sequence against Ashwin in the second innings, when a cover drive to a wider delivery was followed, when the bowler straightened his line, by the simple movement towards the line and a deft flick to the midwicket boundary.

"Something Marcus does very well is he goes for the line of the ball," Holder said. "Unfortunately with the shorter forms of the game, the basics of going to the line of the ball seems to be forgotten. People open up their front leg to give themselves room. Once you go to the line of the ball you can see it, and you can use your hands effectively. That's what he does, and I'm not really big into soft hands and hard hands, you can choose if you have the line of the ball, where to make a connection. That's what he's very skilful at.

"Harry's followed his own path in terms of backing himself, moving to Victoria and putting the runs on the board as they say, and he's earned his place. I've been waiting for a period of time for Marcus to be selected because I think his batting is that skilful. I consider him being a longer-term prospect for the Australian team, and I thought he made a pretty good go of it in the first Test. The Indians bowled particularly well in both innings."

That must have hit home on Harris when, after working successfully on a fresh plan to combat Ashwin, he found himself "sucked in" to playing too fine a cut shot when Mohammed Shami dragged a ball wide of the off stump from around the wicket with a deep point set. Harris' frustrated swipe at the turf as he walked off was a marker that he had been out-thought, but also that he does not intend upon being done so again. A collective discussion between Langer and the batsmen on Tuesday carried with it the theme of patience.

"You could probably tell by my reaction that teams have tended to do that to me a little bit in Shield cricket now," Harris said. "They put point out straight away and take that boundary away from me. So I felt like I got sucked in a little bit and that's why I was talking about being strong enough to try to take a one rather than hit a shot that's low percentage for what would probably still be a one anyway. That's alright but something I've worked on and will have a plan going forward to work through as well.

"[Langer's] main thing to me personally and a few of the others boys was how much time we have and there's no great rush in Test cricket with five days to play. The longer we can occupy the crease the more pressure we can put on them and the more spells they have to bowl. I think we saw towards the end of day five once the boys went into their third and fourth spells, it got harder and harder [to bowl] and probably a bit easier to bat. So our main focus is if you have a good day, make it a great day. Pretty simple, but that's Test cricket."

The appearance of Bancroft, a little less than three weeks before the expiry of his ban for the events of the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, was a source of happy memories for Harris as former state opening partners and solid friends. Typically of Harris, his warm words about Bancroft were leavened out with a good-natured crack about the latter's growth of a vestigial beard during his time away from international and domestic cricket.

"We opened the batting together for a couple of years, so when he first came in he took my spot and we ended up batting together for a couple of years, so me and Bang had a really good relationship," Harris said. "I was really happy for him last year when he was playing in the Test side, I thought he started doing really well. Obviously what happened, happened and that'll be, but I've got a really good relationship with Bangers.

"We were sort of opposites in personality, sort of a yin and yang thing - Bangers the most intense man in the world and I was a bit more chilled out, but it worked really well. So it was great to see him back. I think he's back at the end of December, and said once he's back he's going to shave that beard off, so I'm looking forward to that. But he seems in good spirits so I'm hoping he goes really well.

"He was one of the first blokes to text me so we've always got along really well, never been a competition between me and Bangers. We chat regularly, he was in Melbourne for a little bit during the winter, so we're really good mates."

They have both, at various stages, been very much under Langer's wing, as he seeks to propagate an open and trusting relationship with all his players - not only in terms of their games, but their lives. The path taken by Australia under Langer so far has distinct traces of Holder's influence.

"Basically, when you're coaching somebody and discussing stuff ... a mentor is somebody you can share your feelings with, you trust them with your feelings," Holder said. "So in a way, talking to players they're talking about their feelings and they trust me with their feelings and I do the same. So they can call me a mentor and I can call them a mentor. A lot of organisations, particularly in professional sport, players haven't got the opportunity or aren't prepared to share their inner feelings. They don't trust other people in the organisation and that's a reality of professional sport or life itself - how many people do you trust with your inner feelings?

"You can bet that Justin Langer will give the same love to every one of his players, and he'll be open to a conversation and to developing relationships. He understands that, and I'm sure he'll help his players. There's been a lot of peripheral noise, what's happening with the board and everything else. What he does well is relate to his players, and his specific tasks he's trying to achieve. It was pretty encouraging from the first Test, No. 1 cricket nation versus No. 5, and you go within 31 runs when the top order didn't fire that well."

Not unlike Harris' move from WA to Victoria, after which Langer bluntly described his time in the west as "mediocre with flashes of brilliance", Holder saw the need for change in his own relationship with a man he had become used to guiding through the challenges of batting and, in 2006, the question of retirement. As Langer has recalled about his return home from a bad concussion in the final Test of a series in South Africa:

"Noddy basically told me it was time to retire. He got quite emotional about it. I'd always made him promise me when it was time to retire he'd let me know. After being hit so badly I was really unwell after that for a couple of weeks and it was like the old trainer throwing the towel in and saying 'time to retire mate'. I kept saying to him 'no I promised', we'd made a pact almost on the plane home that we were going to win the Ashes back. We were a bit shell-shocked by losing the series like we did, but we promised each other we'd win the Ashes back next time."

Three years later, Holder was watching Langer coaching after becoming the Australian team's batting assistant. "When Justin moved into coaching he started off as a batting coach for Australia, and I remember having a session where I was watching him and he was coaching someone," Holder said. "I didn't interrupt but I actually went over and he asked me something and I went 'blah'. So I rang him that night and said to him 'I didn't respect you as a coach today, I was still referring to you as a player, giving you my thoughts on what I'm seeing'.

"So the big thing was acknowledging that Justin was a coach in his own right, and I'm no longer coaching him. It's taken our relationship into a new realm, where I respect him as a coach, not only as a player and a person but as a coach, and he from time to time might ring and tell me about how he's feeling, the pressure he's under or whatever his feelings might be. As a friend I'll just say 'this is what I'm hearing, this is what I'm thinking'. He will very rarely talk to me about someone's batting or anything like that, he'll talk as a friend about how he's feeling about life."

Life, this week at least, is good. Holder is hoping to get to Perth stadium to see some part of the Test, where he will witness Harris batting in the style that has left so many wondering about the resemblance. "It's pretty special to play in a Perth Test," Harris said. "It would have been great to have played at the WACA where it has always been but to get the opportunity to play at the new stadium will be pretty special in the first Test there.

"I know most of my family were in Adelaide, but I think all of them will be here. So I am looking forward to it and to play in front of a home crowd will be pretty special as well. There is a different spotlight that comes with being in Test cricket, which I learned first-hand in the first Test. But it is an experience I loved so far and it's great to be part of it, so hopefully I can put a score on the board in the second Test and get the ball rolling a little bit."