'It's about maximising the opportunities' - Grace Harris thrives in her second coming

Australia's big-hitting allrounder is looking forward to the prospect of playing her first T20 World Cup, having missed out in 2016

S Sudarshanan
Grace Harris has been a strong force for Australia down the order  •  BCCI

Grace Harris has been a strong force for Australia down the order  •  BCCI

Grace Harris' batting has always been about hitting sixes, with fours being the second choice. Since her early days, she has looked to emulate the shots that Australia Men players like Glenn Maxwell and Chris Lynn play.
Among those to have batted in equal or more innings than her 99 in the Women's Big Bash League, only Ashleigh Gardner, Sophie Devine and Alyssa Healy have a better strike rate than Harris' 123.79.
In her first 11 T20I innings, during her first stint for Australia in 2015-16, she had to deal with the challenge of batting at six different positions. While she did show her mettle by hitting seven sixes across those innings and maintaining a strike rate of 155.84, she couldn't make a bigger impact. And then an injury put her out of the reckoning.
In her second coming for Australia, Harris, aided by clarity in her role, has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Hours before the opening match of the Women's Ashes earlier this year, she was called up as a T20 specialist to replace Beth Mooney, who had suffered a fractured jaw after getting hit during training. Across her six T20I innings this year, she has a strike rate of 186.45 and an average of 59.66, having largely batted in the lower-middle order. The brief to her is pretty clear: "maximise the opportunities".
"I have come lower down the order in this Australian team. It's about maximising the opportunities I get," she tells ESPNcricinfo. "So if I am only facing seven balls then it's to try and score as many runs as I can quickly."
Having performed that role repeatedly in the WBBL, Harris has forced her way back into the side.
"It's about assessing the scenario how I am going to go about it the best tactically," she says. "If it's a slow legspinner I am going to try and capitalise on the off side and hit with the spin over there. If they are an offspinner then [I will] really stick to my strengths and hit down the ground and to midwicket and hit with the spin. It's just assessing those little differences.
"If I get beaten on the day, I know that I am backed in by the coaching. If I get out really quickly trying to do the right thing, then I know I am backed up and I am well supported, but if I do something really silly that's well outside my wheelhouse, then I know I am not in the right spot or I know I will get into a bit of trouble. That's how I approach the game at the moment in my role and really enjoying it."
"There is so much honesty now and understanding of your role and how you fit into the squad. I just stay in my lane and really enjoy the ride and I am really happy if others do well in their lane too"
Grace Harris
Harris has displayed her power consistently in the WBBL, and holds the record for being the first centurion in the league. Having clarity about her role - something she admits to not having in her previous stint - means that the step up has been seamless for her this time.
"These days we are clear on where we fit into the team and what we are to do when we get the opportunity to go out in the middle," she says. "Being really set with that plan and then having the understanding of your role and how you play in the team, I think that's just really clarified everything. You can go out there with a clear mindset and really enjoy the game, not really worrying about what you are supposed to do at that time or what the coach sees you as.
"There is so much honesty now and understanding of your role and how you fit into the squad. I just stay in my lane and really enjoy the ride and I am really happy if others do well in their lane too."
Harris has batted in the top order for Brisbane Heat and Australia as well, but has recently adapted well to a different role. It requires her to bat without inhibitions and it merges with her nature too.
"If you bat in the top order, sometimes you get a little bit caught up in 'do you take a couple of balls to see yourself in and then go, or with two fielders out as compared to four [after the powerplay], where are you hitting it, what are you doing?'
"That's the only real difference that I see coming from a top-order batter to that middle-order role or the lower-order role. You don't have the balls to get in. So you just simply have to walk out there, know exactly how you plan in the conditions and what bowlers you are going face. When you walk in in the lower order, generally you know what bowlers are left.
"You can target your bowler that really suits up and matches what you are best at. If you are an opener, you've got to face the best bowler and you have to face all of them. So you play little mind games like that."
Harris was picked in Australia's squad for the T20 World Cup in 2016 in India. But she suffered from Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) just before the side was to fly out and eventually missed out. Australia then found an able replacement in Gardner in early 2017 and Harris, the OG found it tough to get back to the squad.
"I just made sure my goals weren't really to play cricket for Australia," she recalls about her time out. "It was about getting better as a player and as an athlete and understanding the game a bit better. I benched dreams of wearing the green and gold shirt as a main goal and mainly worked on myself and my own game and how I can get better as an individual player. Even within the domestic set-up [it was about] how to be a better team-mate or help others out.
"I just find enjoyment from outside things than simply wearing the green-and-gold jersey as much as it is an honour and privilege to do it, it was not my main goal and main focus. I love the game and I love playing it and it is just good fun. If I get to do it then it's fantastic; if I don't, I just enjoy where I am at."
How different, then, is her role from Gardner's?
"We're pretty much the same role," she says. "It's just simply about capitalising on the opportunities we get with the bat. With the ball, Ash has played a much bigger role than what I have with the ball. She is very clear on how she wants to bowl to certain batters and what she wants to do to try and get them out or to restrict them from scoring bulk of runs. With the bat, if we hit to different areas then just back ourselves to hit there and pat each other on the back when we do and commiserations when we don't."
Harris capped Australia's T20I tour of India with her maiden T20I half-century and added a record, an unbroken stand of 129 for the fifth wicket with Gardner. Together, they smashed India for 112 in the last eight overs, helping Australia win by 54 runs. Having missed out traveling to India in 2016, Harris certainly left her mark this time. She finished with a strike rate of 203.07, easily the best for any batter in the series, across the four games she played [she missed the second T20I due to illness].
With the T20 World Cup in South Africa just two months away, Harris wants to have the "fantastic experience" of being part of a 20-over world tournament, having missed out in 2016.
"I have only ever been to a one-day World Cup in New Zealand [earlier this year]," she says. "I didn't play any games of cricket and just watched the girls absolutely dominate. So it'd be a fantastic opportunity to see how T20 World Cups operate.
"I got picked for one, obviously didn't go. So it'd just be fantastic if I get an opportunity later on down the track to have a crack at that T20 World Cup in South Africa. Otherwise I take it day by day and can't get too ahead of myself."

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo