When Calvin Harrison , an unheralded legspinning allrounder, was thrown in at the deep end by the Manchester Originals in the opening men's game of the Hundred, the joke went around that his inclusion was the result of a DJ booking gone wrong. Higher honours for a player with minimal professional experience might have been Acceptable In The 80s, but seemed at odds with the shiny, box-fresh new tournament's promise to deliver 'best v best' cricket.
It was something of a surprise to Harrison, too. "I will be looking for part-time work over the remainder of my studies, or a full-time position once this academic year has finished," reads the 'about' section of his LinkedIn profile, written in the depths of winter while drafting his dissertation in the final year of his undergraduate psychology degree at Oxford Brookes. Six months later, Jos Buttler was shouting "nice, Cal!" at him from behind the stumps at The Oval.
But Harrison is playing in the Hundred on merit, as evidenced by figures of 2 for 42 from 40 balls across his first two appearances. He was the sixth-highest wicket-taker in the Vitality Blast's group stages, with 18 wickets at 13.94 for defending champions Nottinghamshire, having signed days before the tournament started. He earned his contract with them thanks to a hundred and three wickets against them in a pre-season game for Oxford UCCE in April, the culmination of years of hard graft, turning out for six different county second teams.
Like so many tales about promising English cricketers, Harrison's story starts in South Africa. He was born in Durban but has retained little other than his accent from his early years there, moving to New Zealand in 2005 and then to Taunton in 2012 after winning a sports scholarship to King's College.
"With the situation in South Africa, a lot of our friends and family were making the move away," he explains. "We went to New Zealand, with the thought of naturalising there and moving over to Australia but with grandparents and cousins back in South Africa and also in the UK, we decided to move back this way and the scholarship kind of solidified that move.
"I settled in quite quickly and finished my schooling there. After that, I spent a couple of years out, working out what I wanted to do before I started uni, so I spent a couple of seasons back in New Zealand between school and university [playing club cricket for Onslow CC and Wellington's Under-19s], and then the last three years have gone by quickly with the degree.
"Being captained by Jos and having him behind the stumps has been unbelievable - an awesome opportunity"Calvin Harrison
"I moved off the Somerset academy when I left school and then trialled all over the place, looking for consistent performances and somewhere to settle in. We had a pre-season game against Hampshire where I did alright and started getting an opportunity in twos cricket, which led to a couple of Blast games last season, but with the virus and everything, it wasn't really possible to get any training in over the winter, and opportunities there kind of fizzled out."
During the third and final year of his degree, Harrison started thinking about career options, with no indication that a professional career was imminent. He considered doing a masters "looking at the underlying causes of behaviour, and how you might intervene and change them" and got stuck into his dissertation on psychological mindedness - "I ended up looking at it from a cross-cultural angle, looking at how personality influences how good we are at understanding our own and others' emotions and behaviours" - in between training sessions for the UCCE (university centre of cricketing excellence).
The spring was particularly hectic. "It got to the point where in my last few essays, I was needing to write a couple of thousand words in the evenings after cricket to finish the course off, so I spent a lot of time smashing them out. Exams didn't go ahead with the virus so everything was coursework or online and I was pretty much done by the end of April, which left the rest of the summer to focus on cricket. I ended up with a high 2.i, which I was very happy about."
The crucial game in his rise this summer came in late March, a three-day warm-up fixture against Notts at Trent Bridge. He bowled 12 wicketless overs in the first innings, but then made 121 off 166 balls from No. 6 on day two and took three wickets - including Joe Clarke - on the third day. That was enough for him to earn a spell with the second XI, where he makes a point of underlining the support and encouragement from the players and staff was a key factor in lessening the usual scrutiny on trialists and allowing him to settle into his groove. Then, with Imad Wasim and Dan Christian unavailable for the Blast due to a clash with the rearranged PSL and a last-minute Australia recall, Harrison signed a three-month contract in the days before the tournament.
His returns improved markedly as the group stages progressed: two wickets in his first seven games, then 14 in his next seven. The day before Notts' penultimate game, he took a call from an unknown number. "He just said: 'You don't know me, but it's Simon Katich here. We've had a couple of injuries and wondered if you'd be interested in playing for Manchester Originals?' I obviously jumped on it - no looking back."
A week later, he was walking out alongside Buttler, Colin Munro, Phil Salt et al. as part of a three-pronged Originals spin attack at The Oval. Tom Hartley has bowled in the powerplay and at the death with his left-arm darts, and while Matt Parkinson has been the Originals legspinner taking the limelight, Harrison has played his part too.
"We've three very different spinners," Harrison says. "Tom has bowled some very tough overs but is very consistent - quite flat through the air, a different style of bowler. And then I think Parky and myself complement each other quite nicely: I'm a bit quicker through the air, a bit flatter, and he's got a lovely shape and draws batsmen in with his flight. I'm 6ft 4in so when I'm getting over the top of my action and getting over smoothly, that extra bounce and rip are very useful.
"The crowds opening up makes the atmosphere of the Hundred feel a bit different to what I've experienced so far in the Blast but in terms of the game itself, it's felt quite similar, to be honest; maybe a bit more fast-paced, and decisions are being made a lot faster, but the batters have the same intent and it's a similar mindset for me as a spinner. Being captained by Jos and having him behind the stumps has been unbelievable - an awesome opportunity."
Harrison may have been given an unprecedented platform to perform through the Hundred, but his development has come thanks to a university and county system that has formed the bedrock of the English game for a generation. His is a story that gives an indication as to how the three can coexist and interact with mutual benefits in years to come. For the time being, he is simply riding the wave.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98