Not quite a statement, but Harris has given himself something to build on

The kryptonite is still there, but the Australia opener's contribution in this Test match cannot be ignored

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
When Marcus Harris reached his half-century on day two there was a unique roar from the MCG.
It wasn't the familiar parochial chorus for a Victorian on home soil, nor was it the trusting cheer for an Australian on the march to an inevitable century.
It was empathy for a man who has done it tough in Test cricket so far.
It was a day of firsts for Harris. It was his first Test half-century in 17 innings across nearly three years. It was the most number of balls he had faced in Test cricket, and the first time he had batted with either Steven Smith or Travis Head, despite appearing in multiple series with the pair of them.
His 76 was invaluable in the context of the match. The highest score by any batter on either side so far on a sporting pitch where only four players have reached 30 and the seamers have dominated. The combined first-innings total of 452 was the lowest at the MCG since 1990.
Yet it will not appease his critics, of which there are many. As one of the innumerable ex-Australia Test batters wandering the halls of the MCG media centre said yesterday, "I wish I'd been given this many chances."
The selectors have shown an incredible amount of faith in Harris given he averages just 24.63 from 24 Test innings, and while his 76 wasn't quite the statement repayment that might be expected, it was a clear sign of why they had given him an extended run.
No other player in the game has come close to his performance with the bat after one innings each. As fluent as Root's 50 was on day one, it came in less than half the time and deliveries Harris survived on a tricky track
Harris has proven himself, unequivocally by data at least, to be Australia's best opener in first-class cricket not named David Warner. He has made more runs and more centuries at a better average than any of his contemporaries in the last five years. The selectors have told him privately, and have uttered publicly, that his wider body of work in first-class cricket is what they mark him on, after shunting him out of the side twice since his debut in 2018. Since his initial run of six straight Tests from debut, this current run of four is his longest stretch, but even then, there was 11 months between his return Test against India and the first Test of this Ashes series.
In a comfortable setting, his home ground, he showed what the selectors have seen in him and what has made him so prolific at domestic level.
His intent was a feature on the first night. He started brightly with a classy clip off his toes in the first over, and there was a trademark cut shot backward of point later in the evening. He showed toughness in the shadows, pinned on the hand by Ben Stokes that split his finger open, but he calmly got through to stumps unperturbed.
On the second morning, when Marnus Labuschagne and Smith were turned inside out by the class of James Anderson and the velocity of Mark Wood, Harris applied himself better than he has at any stage of his Test career. He defended well, playing inside and under his eye-line far better than he has done previously. He picked off the limited scoring balls that came patiently. There were three driven threes to show off his control and prove he could rein in his penchant for trying to over-hit the ball.
He did have some luck. He survived two stupendous overs from Anderson amid a vintage six-over spell prior to lunch that yielded figures of 1 for 1. He was given out lbw to Stokes only to overturn it on review thanks to an inside edge, and even took the opportunity to sledge Hot Spot in the process on the stump mic. Harris jumped down the track wildly and needlessly to a ball from Jack Leach that spun down the leg side but Jos Buttler missed the difficult chance. It was the luck he needed having fallen to two spectacular catches from Buttler in Adelaide while the gloveman gave Labuschagne two lives and Smith one in the same game.
He was also beaten countless times and played 20 shots that were not in control. But, eventually, his luck ran out as Anderson returned to deliver another world-class spell. Harris was forced to play at a ball angled into off stump from around the wicket only for it to nip away late, catch the edge and find the safe hands of Joe Root at first slip.
For all the selectors' faith, all the promise he showed, and all the belief he may glean from this innings, the kryptonite is still there and readily accessible for any good bowling attack to expose. He's been out 11 times in Test cricket to right-arm seamers coming around the wicket, averaging 20.81, while he averages 38.40 to right-arm seamers from over the wicket.
But his contribution in this Test match cannot be overstated. No other player in the game has come close to his performance with the bat after one innings each. As fluent as Root's 50 was on day one, it came in less than half the time and deliveries Harris survived on a tricky track.
Australia needed it badly. They still haven't made a total of 300 or more without a 50-plus contribution from one of Warner, Smith or Labuschagne since February 2019, 18 Tests ago. Head, Cameron Green and Alex Carey all failed when they were needed most in the absence of significant scores from the senior trio. Harris' half-century won't buy him another 17 Test innings from the selectors on its own. But it is something to build on.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo