Roger Harman talks to Stephen Chalke

Too good a start

Roger Harman talks to Stephen Chalke

Roger Harman talks to Stephen Chalke

Roger Harman in action during his remarkable first full summer in 1964 © Getty Images
"In some ways it might have worked out better for me if I hadn't done so well," Surrey's slow left-armer Roger Harman says, reflecting on the 136 wickets he took in 1964, his first full summer. "If I'd only got 60 or 70 wickets, there'd have been less pressure on me the next year."

The previous summer Tony Lock had still been on the staff, limiting his opportunities, but the 21-year-old had made his mark with a hat-trick at Blackheath and earlier risen to the challenge when Lock pulled out of the May fixture against the West Indian tourists. "I turned up on Saturday morning, not expecting to play, and the next thing I knew I was bowling to the great Frank Worrell. He played back. It bounced and turned and he gloved it to slip. At the end of the summer he said I was the best young bowler in the country."

Lock emigrated to Australia and in 1964 Harman stepped into his boots, taking 8 for 12 at Trent Bridge in mid-May, 8 for 32 against Kent in early June. By July 27 he had taken 97 wickets and was leading the race to 100. "Stuart Surridge, the old Surrey captain, turned up with two crates of champagne in the dressing room, and I think it did play on me a bit."

Although it took Harman another 11 days to take the three wickets, his final tally was second only to Hampshire's veteran seamer Derek Shackleton. And in August a fine performance for the MCC President's XI at Lord's, when his first ball to Bill Lawry span past the obdurate Australian's forward defensive and bowled him, came just too late to win him a place on the boat to South Africa.

He was a classic left-arm fingerspinner, capable - according to John Arlott - of "vicious spin", and by August he was bowling in tandem with the 17-year-old offspinner Pat Pocock. Surrey members, yearning for the triumphs of Jim Laker and Lock, were starting to say what their former captain Michael Barton had said after a 2nd XI match the previous year: "I've just seen the next England spin combination." In all Harman bowled 1,131 overs that summer, over 500 more than any of his team-mates and he wonders now if it was too many. "By the end of the summer I think my arm had dropped a bit, and they said, 'You're knackered, don't come back till January.'

It was the first winter I hadn't trained right through. And, when I did come back, things weren't quite right." There was a buzz of expectation when summer began. "Whenever the pitch started to take turn, they'd lob the ball to me. 'Come on, Airy.' And they'd expect me to bowl the other side out. When you're bowling well, you never think about what your body's doing; you think about what you're going to do with the ball. 'I'll toss one wide of off stump' or 'I'll bowl one quicker on leg'. But I got to the point where I couldn't do it and I was thinking about what I was doing wrong. And of course I became tight and that made things worse. The previous year, when I was taking wickets, the members would all see me. Now, when I walked through them to the dressing room, they looked the other way.

Progressively I lost confidence in my own ability." The decline was dramatic: 136 wickets in 1964, 63 in '65, 50 in '66, 18 in '67 and no longer a regular in the side.

"It's not very nice when you're in the nets and you see the first team go off," he recalls, though there was one last hurrah in July 1968 when he travelled to Ilkeston and bowled on a pitch where the top came off. In the first innings he took 6 for 97, in the second 8 for 16 including a hat-trick. Alas, four more appearances yielded only two more wickets and Surrey turned instead to the young Chris Waller and to the Pakistani legspinner Intikhab Alam. "I was hoping I'd done enough to be retained but I half-expected it was going to come to an end."

Now he is back at The Oval, as chairman of cricket, and the game he watches is a very different one: "Everybody says, 'Don't give the batsman any room. Tuck them up and you can control where they're going to hit it.' When I was playing, if you wanted to get somebody out, you tended to bowl it higher and wider; you made them reach for it. But I'm not sure I'd like to bowl now some of the deliveries I bowled. With today's bats, instead of looping to cover, they'd probably go one bounce for four."

But maybe the mental side of cricket has not changed. "I was never particularly confident as a player and hopefully, if someone is having a bad time, I'll be able to say more of the right words. In a way I was a similar type of bowler to Monty Panesar, a traditional left-arm spinner, and everybody now is so desperate for an English spinner to be a winner. I just hope people give him the opportunity to develop and are tolerant if he hits difficulties along the way."