© Getty Images
Ryan Harris played 27 Tests for Australia, ’27 Tests more than I thought I was going to play’ © Getty Images

Ryan Harris was a fast bowler with the bearing of a happy farmer. Abhishek Mukherjee pens down his observations of the man.

Ryan Harris, big, hustling fast bowler Ryan Harris, the quintessential Australian Ryan Harris, has retired. Harris was the one consistent fast-bowling presence in many of Australia’s matches in the last five years I have personally enjoyed watching due to the ever-present aesthetic pleasure of witnessing a smooth action, and perfectness in line, length and pace. ALSO READ: Ryan Harris retires from all forms of cricket

Peter Siddle didn’t seem of the same pedigree, and Mitchell Johnson’s USP was different. Harris’s ‘big heart’ is commented upon, but I found most Australia players were expected to have big hearts, and invariably did if the term refers to an all-out devotion towards the team. What set Harris apart was his unassuming demeanour on and off the field, which helped him in his professional journey, too.

Among the tributes floating on Twitter, quite a few from the cricketing fraternity mentioned him as a ‘great bloke’. I remember James Brayshaw, television presenter and commentator for Ashes 2013-14, declaring there wasn’t a ‘better bloke’ across the length and breadth of Australia. Indeed, Harris is among that rare breed of Australian fast bowlers who don’t consider aggression as part of their job to maximise success, because in his case, it simply wouldn’t help. ALSO READ: Ryan Harris and other careers badly sabotaged by injury

Shane Warne had, in the same series, opined that Mitchell Starc, a fast bowler of genial nature, lacked the fire to burn his opponents. But Harris, despite being himself, didn’t evoke similar perceptions, for he didn’t need to. He had once reacted without much fuss after a tumbling catch in the deep in one of the games, much to the confoundedness of Mark Taylor on air. Taylor commented that it was the meekest response he had witnessed by someone taking a catch.

His methods suited Harris perfectly well. His strengths were persistence and refrain from compromise on his bowling standards. If he did put in extra aggression his relentless precision might have gone awry, leading to unwanted inconsistency. To each, his own: Harris was perfectly suited to being himself. ALSO READ: A look at Ryan Harris’s career

The first ball to Alastair Cook in the second innings at WACA was an apt example. The ball pitched on middle and beat Cook’s defence to click the top of off. One must remember that this was Cook, who had trained himself over years to keep an eye out for these ‘peaches’ and see off the new ball cautiously. Harris loves to get rhythm and discipline. He keeps striving for it and wants to keep making the batsman play, on off stump or just outside off. That ball was a result of this work ethic.

Rarely did he swing the ball in the air, but many of his wickets have been off a slight movement off the seam, after pitching on the track. If you are accurate and consistent throughout the day and can move the ball off the surface, you are bound to get success. Add to that a few bursts of short balls, and you get a near-invincible package. ALSO READ: Australia won’t miss me during Ashes 2015, says Ryan Harris

Let us have look at the numbers. He was been world-class without being extraordinary. He had a commendable average of 23.52 from 27 Tests and a strike-rate of 50.7. Among post-1990 fast bowlers, his is the 11th best strike-rate, of those who have played 20 or more matches, he is the third-best Australian. For all bowlers having played 20 or more matches, he is the ninth-best Australian in terms of average, and the seventh in terms of strike-rate.

He had two exceptional Ashes outings, in 2013 in England and 2013-14 at home. In the first of the two series, he was Australia’s best fast bowler with 24 wickets from four Tests at 19.58 (Graeme Swann had two more, but he played a game more). Harris had the second-best strike-rate in that series for anyone who bowled 20 overs in the series. A suitable way to describe him would be ‘nagging’. At a fairly smooth batting surface at Chester-le-Street, he made crucial breakthroughs with the first and second new balls, and kept chipping away at the quality batting order of England in between.

He got rid of century-maker Ian Bell with an exceptional delivery when he was set, en route to seven wickets in the innings. Why? Because he bowled ‘in the right areas’ as was mentioned in an internet commentary of the match. He repeated this mantra in the return Ashes, maintaining his consistency for 22 wickets, again the second-highest in the series, but this time after Johnson’s remarkable 37 wickets.

In the 2013-14 Cape Town Test, he was able to bowl the two priceless yorkers to clinch the series against South Africa despite a worsening knee condition. Ditto for Brett Lee to bowl an over at more than 130 kilometres per hour in a Test despite a fractured arm. There wasn’t room for compromise, for it wasn’t a part of their system: for Lee, it was pace; for Harris, it was everything. He knew he had to take wickets, and went to any measures to achieve that.

But his knee compromised. The training he underwent ahead of the upcoming Ashes couldn’t help him endure the vulnerability of his knee for an entire period of a Tests, let alone five. He had to call it quits. In his straightforward and genuine statements to the press, he has always expressed enthusiasm about his upcoming tasks and his team, and in his retirement, too, similar things are said.

Harris has played only 27 Tests, but has created memories on and off the field fresh to the all — for they could relate to him. Here was a man who went to work like everyone did, kept conjuring uncompromising spells with the grumpy expression of a workaholic (punctuated by the occasional smile or shrug) and returned home at the end of the day exhausted and pleased with himself. Full of contentment. No drama.

During the press conference in which he declared (with a touch of rare resignation) his retirement, his personal and professional attitude was laid bare. When asked what helped him turn up to bowl at the high standards he has maintained, he said: “It’s my job. Just loved doing my job, that was what it was. When Michael [Clarke] asked me to bowl, I bowled. It isn’t always easy to do it, but that was my job and I always made sure I trained hard to be able to do it, and worked really hard doing that, as we all do.”

He later said, “I played 27 Tests for Australia. That’s 27 Tests more than what I was going to play.”

The ‘great bloke’ descriptions I may not be able to fully testify with my limited knowledge of his personal life, but he has certainly set himself apart to his own spectators. That’s what evokes freshness off him and explains reactions that traverse more than his numbers.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @bhejafryyy)