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Match Analysis

Harris is 'loving herself sick' playing for Australia again

Powerhouse player has had to overcome a lot to get a spot in the team and has started to show just how good she can be

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Grace Harris takes an excellent catch to send back Chamari Athapaththu  •  AFP/Getty Images

Grace Harris takes an excellent catch to send back Chamari Athapaththu  •  AFP/Getty Images

Grace Harris doesn't do things by halves.
Chamari Athapaththu, Sri Lanka's captain and opener, announced a hint of the danger she could pose for Australia as she stepped to the pitch of Ashleigh Gardner's delivery in the slot, dropped to one knee and clubbed it over cow corner for six. But when Ellyse Perry entered the attack in the fifth over and Athapaththu went aerial, back over the bowler's head, in steamed Harris with a full-power sprint from mid-on, launching herself forwards and plucking the ball from the mid-air at full stretch for what could take some beating for catch of the tournament.
Then Harris took not one but two wickets in an over to reduce Sri Lanka to 69 for 3. The first, from a delivery floated on a length outside off stump, drew Harshitha Samarawickrama into an attempted slog as the ball gripped and spun past the outside edge, into the waiting gloves of Alyssa Healy who completed the stumping.
Harris runs back to her mark faster than she steps into her delivery stride to release her offbreaks and so it was when she tossed another length ball up on middle and off-stump and Oshadi Ranasinghe skied the ball to Tahlia McGrath at long-on.
"I'm actually pretty sure it was Tahlia McGrath's catch and Grace called her out of it and wanted to take a hanger, but full credit to her for hanging on to it," a smiling Healy said of Harris' screamer. "That's sort of a key moment to get a key batter in that instance. She was loving herself sick out there in the field watching the replay, but it's nice to have a character like that on the field."
It was only the second time Harris had bowled in a T20I since returning to the Australian team at the start of 2022 after an absence of more than five years. Called up to Australia's Ashes squad after Beth Mooney broke her jaw, her appearance in the only T20I of the series not to be washed out was her first for her country since November 2016.
She was in Australia's squad for the 2016 T20 World Cup but, shortly before the she was due to fly to India, she was diagnosed with a 13cm blood clot in her leg and was unable to fly. She travelled to Sri Lanka later that year and played one ODI there before a handful at home to South Africa, but from there opportunities petered out.
If you haven't had the chance of sitting at breaky with her or going to have a drink with her of an evening, do that because it's an it's an absolute laugh a minute
Alyssa Healy on Grace Harris
Naturally powerful with the bat, she honed her game and returned for the Ashes. A combination of bad weather and exceptionally good batting further up the Australian order meant that by the time she reached the Commonwealth Games, she was five matches into her comeback yet hadn't faced a ball. Nor had she bowled with Australia's spin stocks boasting the likes of Gardner, Jess Jonassen and Alana King, which had also meant she didn't play at the ODI World Cup despite being in the squad.
But then, with a belligerent 20-ball knock of 37 in a half-century stand with Gardner which rescued Australia in the opening match of their gold medal campaign against India, Harris announced herself.
"Unbelievably resilient, Grace is," Healy said. "Our group's changed a lot as well and I'm really proud of Grace coming back into our group and everyone just embracing who Grace is and letting Grace be Grace out there on the field and also off the park as well. She's an unbelievable character and if you haven't had the chance of sitting at breaky with her or going to have a drink with her of an evening, do that because it's an it's an absolute laugh a minute.
"She's a great person to have around our side not just for her personality, but for her skills. She's unbelievably damaging with the bat in hand. We haven't quite seen that just yet, but I guess that's something exciting probably heading into the back end of this tournament."
A career-best 64 not out against India in December signalled Harris was in good touch ahead of this tournament, and she bowled for Australia in the second T20I against Pakistan in Hobart, incidentally picking up the wicket of opener Muneeba Ali, who became the first Pakistan Women's player to score a century in a T20I on Wednesday in Cape Town.
"She has the ability to hit any length over the boundary and I think that is super impressive in our game," Healy said of Harris. "The women's game has come along quite a lot over the last few years.
"It's become more dynamic, it's become more athletic, it's become more powerful but a player like Grace has been around for a long time and I think the way that she just trusts her game now... And she thinks about the game a lot more and knows the shots that she wants to play and the shots that she's going to be able to clear the boundary with to certain bowlers, that work that she's done behind the scenes has allowed her to come out and be this incredibly powerful player.
"She's that type of player in our middle order that when we're a little bit behind or we need 12 an over she's the perfect person to step out there and break the game wide open which is exactly what you want. So she's a true asset to everyone."
Harris' turn with the ball and in the field somewhat overshadowed Megan Schutt's four wickets at the death - three in the final over. And it was Healy who was awarded Player of the Match for her three stumpings and unbeaten half-century alongside Beth Mooney, who broke a lean run with the bat at the tournament.
"It was good for her to spend some time at the crease, probably more for her own mental health than anything else," Healy said of Mooney. "She's been hitting the ball really well in the nets and it just hasn't quite been clicking on the field. I thought she played really well today and hopefully that gives her confidence moving forward."
If that happens and Mooney goes onwards and upwards, it may be longer before we see any fireworks with the bat from Harris. But the Australians won't complain.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo