‘Rhino’ recalls pain-defying finishing act

Ryan Harris, the former bustling Australia seamer, was “willing to go and break myself” in Cape Town against South Africa.

Ryan Harris at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai.   -  S. Dinakar

Ryan Harris knew his right knee was gone. He was in immense physical pain. It took a massive effort from him to just stay on the ground. Then skipper Michael Clarke walked up to him and said, “I need you to bowl, I need you to win this Test match for us.”

Harris’ response was typical of the man “If the captain comes to you and says he wanted you to bowl at a critical time and if you say ‘no’ then you should probably not be in the team,” he told Sportstar here on Thursday.

The paceman with the moniker “Rhino” for his strength and bustling approach remembered, “I was willing to go and break myself. When you play for your country you got to hurt yourself a lot.”

The enchanting Newlands in Cape Town was the venue, the year was 2014 and the South African batting was displaying typical resilience in its second innings. The series was on a knife’s edge at 1-1 and everything boiled down to the last 10 overs on day five when the Aussies needed to break the dogged ninth wicket partnership between Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn. Time was running out for the men from down under.

The attack appeared tired and jaded when Clarke, in a final fling of the dice, tossed the ball to Harris. The fast bowler did not want the opportunity to fly way. “You do all your fitness training and your bowling for that moment. That moment, needing to win the Test and the series for your country in the last phase of the final day,” Harris, now 37, said.

In the city as a coach of the Australian Academy boys visiting the MRF Pace Foundation, Harris remembered, “My right knee was in bad shape and I had a tear near the hip as well. I got through. I knew afterwards that with the kind of knee I had, I was going to need a surgery within a week of going home.”

Harris said, “My belief was if I could walk and get through then I could bowl, no matter how sore I was. The bad injuries where you have torn muscles or broken bones, you cannot bowl but you still have to find a way of doing it.”

‘Tough’

He noted, “South Africa is an amazing side that can stand and defend, defend, defend ball after ball. For us to get through that in their own conditions was very, very tough.”

Harris had removed opener Alviro Petersen and key man A.B. de Villiers, who, in a departure from his natural attacking style, had consumed an astonishing 228 balls for his 43. Then, Harris needed to do the job in his final burst. The clock was ticking and his body was imploding. The tension was excruciating.

Harris, against the odds, struck. “We could not get Steyn and Philander out. Then I got through Steyn’s defence with a full length delivery that swung.”

In walked Morne Morkel. “I had a good plan to get Morkel out. The ball was reversing, I came round the wicket and hit the stumps. It swung in and knocked the off-stump back. Big relief, huge excitement, we had won.”

Harris played his first Test when 29 but went on to scalp 113 batsmen in 27 Tests at a telling strike rate of 50.7, often battling injuries. “I had always dreamt of being in the Australian cricket team and when I was there I wanted to make the most of it.”

His four for 32 in 24.3 lion-hearted overs at Newlands was not about numbers alone. It was a lot about blood and sweat, travelling to the very soul of Test cricket. A bloody hard day of the five-day game it was.

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