Ryan Harris: From an uncertain player to a potential workhorse for Australia

Once Ryan Harris (above) fights his way through the fitness issues, he ll undoubtedly share the workhorse tag along with Peter Siddle for Australia © Getty Images

Despite fighting his injuries and fitness, Ryan Harris remains the favourite pick of the Australian selectors. In a country with a fairly good bank of fast bowlers, Harris provides immense value which keeps him in the top league. Abhijit Banare looks back at the fast bowler’s recent Ashes and the journey forward.

 
He is ranked fifth in the ICC Test Rankings for bowlers. It must take some sheer quality to be among the best in the world in the longest format of the game. Yet Ryan Harris’s 16-match Test career spread across three years doesn’t instil caution in the opposition despite impressive numbers there for everyone to see. Injuries have often held a stake in his career.
 

The best one can relate to Harris is that of Kiwi fast bowler Shane Bond — great abilities broken with injuries. Harris must have made more trips to medical centres than the Australian team’s dressing room, yet selectors have waited for the 33-year old player’s availability which reinforces that he’s still in the top layer of Australia’s fast bowling bank. His commendable performance in the recently-concluded Ashes with 24 wickets was among the few positives for the Kangaroos. From Harris’s career point of view, the series was like a dream. After all he never had any memory of appearing in three consecutive Test matches for Australia. The dream though was shattered in the dying moments of the dramatic last Test at Oval as he walked off due to a hamstring injury.
 
It could be called as a ‘well-timed’ injury as it keeps him away from the Champions League Twenty20 and is most likely to be stay from touring India for the seven-match ODI series in October. And even in future, his impressive numbers in ODIs might take a backseat to keep his longevity in Tests before resuming to the shorter formats for Australia.

He’s had a broken ankle, knee, Achilles and shoulder injury, but the wickets never dried up. It’s not an easy task to rise again and again. The commitment to rise and move forward speaks volumes about the tough player. Speaking to the Herald Sun he said, “I wasn’t ready to say it was all too hard this time. There were times I just thought I wouldn’t get back when I injured my knee then not being able to get through four day cricket after the 2010 Ashes when I injured my ankle. I love every minute of it playing for Australia, that’s what has kept me going.”
 
Once Harris fights his way through the fitness issues, he’ll undoubtedly share the workhorse tag along with Peter Siddle. After 16 Tests, Siddle had 55 wickets in his bag. The less experienced Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson have 41 and 47 respectively with 12 appearances. Harris is at 71 after 16, which shows who the strike bowler for the team is. The number of wickets may not always be the best parameter to judge Harris’s success in future. However, the number of opportunities he has created for Australia, placing them into winning positions, may very well add another perspective. In the recent series, more than the value of a Man of the Series, his ability to dismiss quality batsmen makes him valuable.
 
Skipper Michael Clarke will be more delighted to notice that apart from other top-order batsmen, Harris has dismissed Jonathan Trott and Joe Root on four occasions each and Alastair Cook thrice. Someone like Clarke will be well aware what batsmen like Trott and Cook are capable of. Even in the exciting fifth Test, Harris provided the crucial breakthrough of the threatening Kevin Pietersen, who would have folded the game much earlier than other batsmen that followed. The opportunity of claiming the wickets of England’s reliable batsmen upfront makes his presence absolutely important for the entire series during the return Ashes.
 
To look at his bowling, his physique can mislead the opposition. His skidding deliveries at a searing pace are often ignored until that ball which swings back at 140kph, rushing through the gates, hitting the stumps or crashing onto the pads. Form doesn’t matter for Harris, 12 Test matches across three years and a successful outing shows that he his consistent. But injuries often sneak into his baggage on most of the tours. At 33, it’s unlikely that he will regain fitness to an extent that possibilities of injuries can be erased completely. The odd niggles will still be there but so will the spirit and support from the selectors and team to stay afloat.
 
One of the advantages for Harris is the support of coach Darren Lehmann who will be closely monitoring his progress. Lehmann was his coach during the stint with Queensland, and in the Indian Premier League (IPL) during the victorious run with Deccan Chargers as well as with Kings XI Punjab. Lehmann will be very well aware about managing the injury-prone player.
 
Injuries, apart from physical pain, inflict psychological scars as well. Come November and Australia will be challenging England while Harris will be fighting against his own body to smoothen his bumpy ride with the national team.
 
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)