The Investec Ashes 2013 August 13, 2013

Caution surrounds Harris' Oval prospects

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Ryan Harris is no certainty to play in the final Investec Ashes Test at The Oval as Australia's selectors consider his long-term importance ahead of the home Ashes series later this year. Harris was outstanding at Chester-le-Street, where his seven-wicket haul in the second innings and nine for the match gave Australia a victory chance that was not grasped by the batsmen, but the 47 overs he bowled was the most he has ever sent down in a Test.

His relentless speed, accuracy and aggression caused problems for England's batsmen and despite having not played in the first Test at Trent Bridge, Harris is now Australia's leading wicket taker in the series with 20 victims at 19.25 and is second only to Graeme Swann from either side. But his injury history - this is the first time he has ever made it through three consecutive Tests unscathed - will be considered by the selectors in the lead-up to The Oval.

"We would love him to play," coach Darren Lehmann said. "He is exceptional. The extra day would be good because there's only a week before the next game. To be perfectly honest, we will be extra careful with him. We have to make sure he is right come the next Test series.

"He is so valuable to us, as he showed in the past few games. We would have loved to have played him in the first Test but he wasn't quite right. He has shown his value since then. If he is in any doubt of getting through he won't play."

Harris is without question an impact bowler, the kind of man who can run through a batting line-up, and he has collected 67 wickets at 22.32 in his 15 Test appearances. Harris has missed far more Tests than he has played but has still managed to bustle his way into the top ten of the ICC Test bowling rankings, sitting at No.7, behind Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Rangana Herath, Saeed Ajmal, Peter Siddle and Swann.

"He's top three or four I reckon," Lehmann said. "But that's a totally biased opinion isn't it, I've had him for years [as coach of Queensland]. I just reckon he's outstanding in what he gives to the team and how he bowls and he just gets good players out, doesn't he? The wickets he's got have been high end all series. He's blown England away a few times."

Should Australia rest Harris the logical replacement would be Mitchell Starc, who has bowled well in patches during this series, including a searching spell of reverse swing at Old Trafford. Starc made way for Jackson Bird at Chester-le-Street and while Bird also bowled well at times, swinging the ball away and building pressure, he also lacked the pace to offer the kind of threat posed by Harris.

"I thought he was good in patches," Lehmann said of Bird. "He was really good at certain stages of the game and then bowled poorly in other patches and he knows that. He's a great young kid. Hopefully he'll get his chance to bowl again at The Oval and impress again."

The make-up of Australia's attack will also depend on the fitness of Shane Watson, who has developed into their first-change option this series due to his accuracy and economy. The Australians believe they need a fifth bowler and after Watson left the field halfway through one of his overs on Sunday with pain in his right hip/groin region, there remains uncertainty over whether he will be able to bowl at The Oval.

If Watson is unable to bowl it would be difficult for him to keep his place as a batsman only, despite his impressive first-innings 68 at Chester-le-Street. One possibility would be to include James Faulkner or Ashton Agar as a bowling allrounder at No.7 and move Brad Haddin up to No.6, but such decisions will not be considered until Australia find out more about the injury to Watson, who fielded and batted after suffering the pain.

"I'll sum that up with the medical staff in the next couple of days," Lehmann said. "I hope he's bowling. That's what he's picked in the side to do, bat and bowl. And I thought he bowled really well in the first innings and batted well. But we need him bowling. We like to have five bowlers. England can have four at the moment because we're not batting well enough at the moment and that's a simple fact of life.

"He'd be a chance [to play as a batsman only] because he played very well but he's got to value add and he value adds when he's bowling. So we'll just have to sit down and see how he goes."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vindaliew on August 15, 2013, 4:48 GMT

    If Harris is not at 100% there's no reason to risk him. He's a great bowler, but bowling has been Australia's strength in this series, and there's no shortage of bowlers on the benches who can make a good game out of it. With the series already lost it would be a good time to let the other fringe bowlers have a go and bowl their heart out... and just pray that the batsmen deliver.

    I support England but would dearly love to see a 100%-fit Harris ready to go for the return series - there's something about big-hearted, never-say-die gladiators that stirs the hearts of all who watch.

  • dummy4fb on August 15, 2013, 3:48 GMT

    Surely you can't ask Harris to carry the bowling again, what's the difference between no wins in 8 or 9 tests....nothing. Might as well rest Siddle as well, he's been phenomenal as well and deserves to be told he's playing back in Australia and rested for a test. Bring in the young guns so they can either fail or create fear in the English lineup. There is zero point in testing Harris body for a fourth test, he's been the bowler of the Series (and I'm English!). This maybe the last chance for Starc and Bird before Cummins and Pattinson return for the reverse series and this realy would create a scenario where someone can create an opportunity for themselves.

  • jmcilhinney on August 15, 2013, 1:14 GMT

    @CamS71 on (August 14, 2013, 9:43 GMT), I think it's safe to say that Milhouse79 was being sarcastic. He was making fun of some of the exaggerated claims a few Aussie fans have made about their pace attack. Australia obviously have a fair number of talented young fast bowlers but even Cummins (who is not injured at the moment) only gets the odd ball over 150kph and he appears to be the fastest. Some have talked about their depth as though there are several bowlers who are ready to step in and dominate batting lineups despite having played little or no Test cricket. Jackson Bird is a fine example. He's obviously got some talent but looked pretty ordinary in Durham. Everyone can have an off game - Anderson also didn't look great - but just because you can rattle off a list of names of bowlers who've done well in a domestic competition that everyone says has weak batting at the moment doesn't mean that you have a dozen front-line Test speedsters.

  • jmcilhinney on August 15, 2013, 1:05 GMT

    @liz1558 on (August 14, 2013, 11:07 GMT), the teams have to be announced before the toss.

  • S.Jagernath on August 14, 2013, 22:54 GMT

    An amazing bowler has had such a tough life in cricket.Would love to watch him play injury free for the next few years.Very few bowlers are as persistent & consistently brilliant,especially in good batting conditions.

  • hhillbumper on August 14, 2013, 20:28 GMT

    He has bowled really well in this series and bowls a good line with pace.It is a shame he has been injured so much and reminds me of Shane Bond.As for Cummins and Pattinson they are both injured once more so wonder what will happen next

  • SevereCritic on August 14, 2013, 15:32 GMT

    Fly in Cummins or Hazlewood maybe. Or Sayers. Rest Harris. He will be very valuable in the return series and needs to be protected. Also Aussie bowlers are not the ones playing for pride at the Oval. They have done their job in the series. The batsmen have let them down and need to show up with a redeeming performance at the Oval.

  • dummy4fb on August 14, 2013, 12:16 GMT

    Slightly off topic but what exactly was wrong with Mitchell Starc? Why did he deserve dropping? 8 wickets @27 in 2 tests was surely OK?

  • liz1558 on August 14, 2013, 11:07 GMT

    If England win the toss and bat, there's a good chance that Harris won't play. In that event, there's every chance that England's top three will make their first significant contribution.

  • Dazako on August 14, 2013, 10:36 GMT

    @Simon Dixon claiming Ryan Haris's injury problems are due to his wieght. Although I agree with you that he is packing a few extra kgs, I dont think that this is the reason for his injuries. I have seen him a bit lighter eg Bresnans body shape and he still broke down (Bresnan himself was injured not that long ago). I think the extra padding might actually be helping him prevent soft tissue injury, but will effect his cardio vascular. In the last 3 games he has bowled more overs in a short time than in any time in his career and at this point he is available to play a 4th straight match. Personally I'd play him.