Ryan Harris v Stuart Clark
Australia have had a long history of top-class, high-profile fast bowlers: ten have taken 200 or more Test wickets, and nine of them did so at averages of less than 30. Which is why it's easy to overlook the contributions of those who had shorter careers - after all, 17 Australia fast bowlers have nabbed more Test wickets than the 113 taken by Ryan Harris, who had to finally announce his retirement after a long battle with knee injuries.
However, among the Australia fast bowlers with relatively shorter careers, two names stand out - both played fewer than 30 Tests and their careers didn't overlap, but performed stellar roles during the period when they were around. Both made their Test debuts after the age of 30, were relatively low-profile personalities who didn't clamour for the limelight, and finished with remarkably similar numbers. Even apart from their career stats, there were several similarities in the careers of Stuart Clark and Harris:
- Clark was 30 years and 169 days at the time of his Test debut; Harris was 30 years and 159 days.
- Clark was born four years before Harris, and made his debut almost exactly four years before Harris - Clark's first Test was on March 16, 2006, and Harris' on March 19, 2010.
- Both made superb starts to their Test careers - Clark took 9 for 89, and the Man-of-the-Match award, on debut against South Africa in Cape Town, while Harris took 6 for 119 against New Zealand in Wellington. (Another Clarke, Michael, took the MoM award.) Australia won both Tests, by ten wickets and seven wickets respectively.
Among fast bowlers who made their debuts after the age of 30, Harris' haul of 113 wickets is the highest, and Clark's 94 is the second-best. Among those who were seam/swing bowlers and debuted after 30, the next best is Ken Mackay's 50 wickets from 37 Tests - that's a stat which shows how special both Harris and Clark were.
Clark played his last Test at The Oval in the 2009 Ashes, and Harris, who debuted a few months later, was almost the perfect replacement - accurate, consistent, with the ability to bowl tirelessly and relentlessly. In an era when batsmen motored along at well over three runs per over, both Clark and Harris had economy rates of less than 2.8. Clark had the marginally better economy rate, while Harris had the marginally better average and strike rate. Harris had five five-fors to Clark's two, but Clark took four wickets in an innings six times.
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Among the 34 Australian fast bowlers who have taken 75 or more Test wickets, Harris and Clark take the seventh and eighth spots, and have better averages than, among others, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Bruce Reid, Jason Gillespie, Mitchell Johnson and Graham McKenzie.
Harris played a lot more against England than did Clark, but both enjoyed bowling against them equally - so equally, in fact, that each averaged exactly 20.63 against England. Harris played more Tests against England - more than 50% of his total wickets came against England - and he did well against them both home and away, while Clark got most of his 30 wickets in the 2006-07 home series. Harris' average of 20.63 is the second-best among bowlers who've taken at least 50 wickets in Ashes Tests since 1960. Against teams other than England, Clark was marginally better, averaging 25.37 to Harris' 26.46.
The similarities don't end there. Both Clark and Harris won exactly three Man-of-the-Match awards in their careers - Clark against South Africa, England and West Indies, and Harris against West Indies, England and India. Their awards against England both came in Sydney Tests, separated by seven years - both scored 35 runs in that Test, but Harris took eight wickets to Clark's five.
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Clark was part of a stronger team, though: Australia won 18 of the 24 Tests he played, and lost only two - against India in Perth in 2008, and against England at The Oval in 2009. Harris, in 27 Tests, was a part of 16 wins and six defeats. The bigger difference between the two, though, was their performance in Asia. Neither played much in the continent - Harris played two Tests and Clark three - but Harris took 11 wickets in two Tests in Sri Lanka at an average of 14.54, while Clark toiled through three Tests in Asia - one in Bangladesh and two in India - and returned figures of 3 for 238.
That apart, there were several similarities in the careers of two fast bowlers who started late but then made the best use of the limited opportunities they got.
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats