England v Australia, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 1st day July 18, 2013

Harris fulfils five-year-old promise

Australia know that Ryan Harris' body is not on his side so save him for when he can have maximum impact, and his opening spell at Lord's was a perfect example

On the opening day of the 2008 season, Ryan Harris made his Lord's debut. In the kind of performance that suggested he was born to bowl at the home of cricket, he plucked 4 for 36 for Sussex against MCC. Ed Joyce, Michael Carberry and Ravi Bopara were among the victims, all dismissed by balls that swung or seamed. In the Members Pavilion, a gaggle of Egg and Bacon ties wondered why they had not seen him before, and assumed it would not be long before he returned for a Test.

It has taken five years, but Harris has finally returned to fulfil that earlier promise. On his first day as a Test match cricketer in England he went close to emulating the figures of his first appearance at the ground. In doing so, Harris demonstrated exactly why Australia's decision-makers have always kept him in their thoughts, even as he creaked towards his 34th birthday in a career pockmarked by injuries and moments of doubt. They, and Harris, are determined to extract the maximum from his ageing body on this tour. Watching him set about England's top order on a glorious summer's day it was not hard to see why.

Having lost the toss, Australia's bowlers had minimal time to exploit the new ball and any residual moisture in the pitch before circumstances levelled out into those of the kind relished by any batsman. In this there were parallels with Adelaide in 2010, when James Anderson claimed the wickets of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke during the narrowest possible window for movement and bounce. Those incisions made it possible for England to work their way through the rest on a blameless surface, subsequent Australian mistakes compounded by the earlier losses.

By recalling Harris, Australia had among their number a bowler who seldom wastes the new ball in the manner James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc had done at Trent Bridge. And with Pattinson struggling to master the slope and his own rhythm at the other end, Harris could not afford to. Clarke's concern that the Dukes be used effectively was underlined when he called Shane Watson into the attack early, hoping for swing and seam. He responded by pinning Alastair Cook lbw, before Harris defeated Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen.

One of Harris' greatest attributes has always been his ability to move the ball just the right amount in either direction. Seldom has he sent down the big, curling away swinger or the treacherous in-ducker, hooping in to leg stump after starting well wide. Instead he has built his reputation on gaining deviation of about a bat's width either way, generally away in the air or back off the pitch.

Pietersen was bewitched by the former after Root was confounded by the latter, surprised also by skiddy pace, and given lbw. Harris appealed loudly and successfully, but then endured a long wait while the dismissal was confirmed after Root's referral.

In some ways that wait mirrored the one Harris had to endure to play a Test at Lord's. Beset by injuries, fickle form and the occasional bout of wayward behaviour early in his career, he also took time to grow fully into his body and his action, only developing the pace that would make him an international proposition after several seasons with South Australia. It was in the season before the Sussex visit to England - cut short by a passport wrangle - that Harris finally began to deliver on his ability, winning SA's state player of the year for 2007-08. That performance attracted the interest of Queensland, and their offer of a multi-year deal that the Redbacks curiously failed to match.

Harris agonised over the decision, but ultimately chose to move to where he would be shown greater faith than a series of one-year contracts. The SACA president Ian McLachlan bid him an unkind farewell with the following words: "Ryan Harris was the best player for one year. He got 37 wickets in 10 games, that's not a lot. We took all of the aspects of cricketers into account. When you put all of those aspects in, we needed a culture change."

McLachlan's dismissiveness would fade as Harris did well for the Bulls, and began earning international recognition. He always took wickets, sometimes in dramatic sequences, such as his 6 for 47 to wrap up the Perth Test during the previous Ashes series. But by this time injuries had begun to bother Harris, a series of unrelated ailments showing that his body, now over 30 years old, was not quite up to the rigours of constant cricket.

So the selectors began using him sparingly, withdrawing him from the ODI team despite an eye-popping record, and also granting him the somewhat dubious distinction of being the first player rested for preventative reasons, in the West Indies last year after he had been Man of the Match in Barbados.

This careful treatment has not always sat well with Harris, who has always possessed the sort of wholehearted, unaffected attitude so loved by team-mates, friends and family. But it has enabled him to reach England, and Lord's, when at times it has been easy to presume he would not make it this far.

Australia's husbanding of Harris has been finely tuned, to the point that he was kept out of the team for Trent Bridge in the knowledge that he would be unlikely to make it through back-to-back Tests, and his wicket-to-wicket method appeared so suited to Lord's. Beyond this match lies a 10-day break, making him a likely retention for Old Trafford. Durham may then arrive too soon, but the final and possibly decisive fixture at the Oval will be a distinct possibility.

Thus rested from the privations of a dry and dusty Nottingham surface, Harris had the chance to charge in on the ground he had first made an impression in England. Early wickets showed his worth, and the later defeat of Jonathan Trott reinforced it. In the evening Steve Smith's surprise spell of legspin ensured Australia would walk off the field with hope in their hearts. They could not have done so without Harris, whose return to Lord's had been entirely worth the wait.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here