Simon Ross Harmer
February 10, 1989, Pretoria, Transvaal
Right hand bat
Right arm offbreak
At 27, Simon Harmer decided that his future in international cricket was blocked in South Africa and opted to change direction. He decided to sign a Kolpak deal with Essex, aware of the bad grace it would attract in his home country but aware, too, that he was not even being selected in the South Africa A side and that domestic cricket only had limited value.
If he had vague regrets over his change of path as 2017 began, they soon dissipated as Essex, newly promoted, won their first Championship for 25 years. Harmer was at the centre of their success, taking 72 wickets at 19.19 each, fair hair flying with ambition. Here was an attacking offie who gave the ball a huge tweak, blessed with good flight, changes of pace and a flawless action. Essex soon extended his one-year contract to three and Harmer expressed the desire to see out the rest of his career at Chelmsford. After years of frustration, he was enjoying his cricket again; ambition burned brightly, too, amid talk of trying to qualify for England.
Among the highlights was career-best figures of 8 for 36 against Warwickshire at Chelmsford in June, and 14 for 128 in the match, as Essex pronounced themselves realistic title challengers. Before the month was out, that career-best had been enhanced - 9 for 95 against Middlesex (again 14 in the match) as victory was achieved in the penultimate over.
Although Essex failed to defend their title in 2018, Harmer returned another 57 wickets. The following season he reached new heights to help secure a second Championship in three years, as well as the club's maiden T20 Blast success. Having taken over as captain in the shortest format, he led from the front with a seven-wicket haul on Finals Day before hitting the winning runs; a few days later, another five-for at Taunton took his returns in the Championship to 83 at 18.28 as Essex lifted another trophy.
An aggressive offspinner seldom finds a place in South African cricket but Harmer was determined to be different. He carved a niche for himself at the Warriors franchise after he moved to the Eastern Cape from his home on the Highveld, where he was schooled at Pretoria Boys' High School, the alma mater of Eddie Barlow.
Harmer made his first-class debut for provincial Eastern Province in the 2009-10 summer and was soon promoted to the franchise team. Two seasons later, he was topped the first-class competition bowling charts with 44 wickets at 31.75 for the Warriors but could not stake a claim for higher honours with Paul Harris in the national side. Neither did quota policy, a perpetual political minefield, advance his case.
Instead, Harmer made regular appearances for the A side and was left to work on other areas of his game. He added lower-order impetus with the bat to his repertoire, with a first-class hundred and several fifties, but still could not break through.
It was only when the South African attitude towards spin turned, and they began to look to include more than one in a squad, that Harmer came into contention again. But by then, he had a competitor. In the 2013-14 season, Harmer was the second-highest wicket-taker after Dane Piedt - and Piedt was selected ahead of him to tour Zimbabwe in August 2014.
Harmer only his find his way into the South Africa side when Piedt was injured during the home series against West Indies the following season. He made his international debut in the 2015 New Year's Test and took seven wickets in the match. He toured with South Africa to Bangladesh in July that year and was included as one of three spinners to play against India in November 2015. Nagpur was to prove to be the last of his five Tests. Twenty wickets at 29.40 was not a bad record for a spin bowler about to be ignored.
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