What Grace Harris’ 14-ball choke in WPL reveals about tuning a run machine to the right setting

With lessons aplenty from the recently concluded Women’s Premier League and the white-ball tour of Bangladesh, Australia will hope Grace Harris finds the right rhythms in the T20 World Cup in the subcontinent later this year

Published : Apr 18, 2024 11:09 IST , CHENNAI - 10 MINS READ

FILE PHOTO: Grace Harris of Australia in action against Bangladesh.
FILE PHOTO: Grace Harris of Australia in action against Bangladesh. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

FILE PHOTO: Grace Harris of Australia in action against Bangladesh. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

It was a few days into the Delhi leg of the Women’s Premier League’s second chapter. Alyssa Healy-led UP Warriorz locked horns with Harmanpreet Kaur’s Mumbai Indians; two bitter international rivals again at the helm of opposing sides looking to get two points and some bragging rights to boast. 

A measured bowling performance had helped restrict a rather trigger-happy MI to a gettable 161. Kiran Navgire and Grace Harris had whacked MI into submission in the earlier meeting between the two sides, scripting a seven-wicket win. An encore, however, was not to be for the women in yellow and purple. Big hitters Kiran, Chamari Athapaththu and skipper Alyssa Healy were gone within the first five overs with just 15 runs on the board. 

All eyes were on Harris, the Warriorz’s swashbuckling batter, to unleash her signature brand of mayhem. The boundary ropes, if sentient, would’ve tensed up for the onslaught of shots everyone associated with this burger and panipuri aficionado from Australia. However, the next few moments threw a massive curveball.

Zero off 14 balls

Harris saw out Hayley Matthews shakily, as she tried to gauge the movement of the ball on a tricky Kotla wicket. Three balls, no run. The dismissal of Healy by Shabnim Ismail brought Deepti Sharma to the crease. Deepti started with a quick single, but Harris was troubled Ismail. She missed three deliveries in a row before driving the last ball of the over straight to the fielder at mid-off.

She then faced Matthews for four deliveries in the sixth over, connecting but not able to grapple the lengths enough to push the ball much further from the 22-yard strip. Ten deliveries passed but Harris was yet to score. Ismail returned and tormented her some more, setting her up with two deliveries scorching into the stumps and then tempting her with a length ball outside off - none of which she could negotiate for runs. With fourteen balls faced, she had yet to open her account.

Matthews returned and offered Harris a juicy ball in the slot which she dispatched for six over long-on, breaking the imaginary shackles slowly tightening around her as the innings wore on. 

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However, Harris’ woes continued. She couldn’t use Pooja Vastrakar’s pace to put the ball away. She struggled to gauge the length and bounce of the deliveries, resorting to nervous footwork in search of solutions. Eventually, a slower ball from Saika offered a chance, and Harris managed to loft it over long-on for a boundary. But the adrenaline boost it brought along lasted for barely a few seconds as Saika left her stumps in disarray. Harris, looking to swing again, missed the ball which she assumed would either straighten or go in, as she helplessly discovered it had turned and knocked her off stump instead. She walked having made 15 off 23 balls.

“It was certainly one of my poorer performances. I was batting with the idea to not lose more wickets at that stage,” Harris told Sportstar after that knock. 

“We’d come from very easy batting conditions and it took me a lot longer to adapt to conditions in Delhi. It was slower and lower too. It was probably the bounce. I bat quite instinctively, watching the length of the ball and the line and then want to play a certain shot. On that day, a couple of balls I played were the kind of deliveries I would traditionally want to pull because of the length they’re at and the line, but on that surface, you had to play straighter. It was more a battle of instincts versus what shot the conditions dictated.”

FILE PHOTO: UP Warriorz’s Grace Harris, during the Women’s Premier League 2024 (WPL) match against Mumbai Indians.
FILE PHOTO: UP Warriorz’s Grace Harris, during the Women’s Premier League 2024 (WPL) match against Mumbai Indians. | Photo Credit: The Hindu / Murali Kumar K

FILE PHOTO: UP Warriorz’s Grace Harris, during the Women’s Premier League 2024 (WPL) match against Mumbai Indians. | Photo Credit: The Hindu / Murali Kumar K

Brain or brawn? 

Why does that knock from a month ago still matter? Potentially because it exposed what a little uncertainty could do to someone as sorted as Harris, a vital cog in the Australian arsenal ahead of a World Cup to be played in Bangladesh. 

Being all brawn in the middle is not an unsavoury thing cricket purists will have you believe. It doesn’t mean you’re being mindless when in the hot seat, but that your crisis response is automated so you can focus on execution. Being all physical in the eye of the storm requires a taxing amount of strategizing in the nets - something Harris thrives on and believed didn’t come through that night. 

“It’s between technical and competitive and that’s the hard part about batting sometimes,” Harris explained.

“Firstly, you train and prepare for that kind of batting, so that when you get into the game,  you’re not necessarily thinking about which area you’re accessing, it’s just about hitting the ball you’re seeing. You need to be in a competitive mind frame which is not technical and not worried about specifics. If I go back to the 0 (15), I had to battle a technique point of view because the bounce coming off the wicket wasn’t naturally at the length I thought it should be, but when you align with conditions and you pick a short ball and it rises as it should, you simply watch the ball and hit it and because you’ve played that shot so much, you know you can hit it. Sometimes you have to battle it out or just get on the front foot at any length and drive at any length because it’s not rising as much as you need. So you get into a technical headspace as opposed to that auto competitive mode,” she added. 

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It’s not as easy as putting it all down singularly to mindset. Harris has always been a casual menace and caution might be the thread out of place in the knitting. If one has to allow anticipation to seep into the mind while in the middle, she prefers it to be anticipation of runs rather than of her own dismissal. 

“The way I see it, there’s always going to be one ball with my name written on it and I accept failure. I cannot bat being afraid of getting out. I have to bat to score runs. You sometimes get into this funk of anticipating dismissals, like if I swing at this ball, it will do me in, or if I drive this one, it’ll have my number. But when you’re batting freely, I am thinking, ‘If she puts one in this area, I am launching it. Or if she lands it there, I’ll respect it and see it through with singles.’ This is when you’re at the peak of your batting powers and you know the game.”

The demands of being away from home for longer periods as the years go by also factor into mental fatigue on and off the field.

“I am still a human being!” Harris declared.

“I’m not too worried about stuff on field. Anything on field, I am happy to own mistakes or things I am not doing right. I have never been too defensive about things happening on the field. I’ve tried to embrace whatever role I get. It’s more the moments off it, some moments on tour where you don’t enjoy yourself as much - where you’re sick or busy or a bit more stressed or homesick. Some of this still comes into the grind of being a professional cricketer who is going around the world and playing in different franchise leagues. We need to learn to manage our emotions and have a really good support network in place and hope that when you get into scenarios you can’t control or you don’t feel your best, you should be able to figure out how to get out of it.”

“I don’t think I’ve met a single person who hasn’t had self doubt in their life. Admittedly I try to hide mine the best in public spaces. I enjoy being happy and enjoy my teammates’ success. I just try to jump on any small bits of joy throughout the year that I can,” she added.

This simplification is something she tries to help her teammates with too and around her, desperate to learn, is Shweta Sehrawat, an U-19 World Cup winner now struggling to find her feet in the big league.

“Shweta overthinks quite a bit because she’s so young and she reminds me of how I was at her age when you’re trying to think about every single outcome. I try and keep my messaging very basic and simple. At the end of the day, we can overcomplicate cricket by trying to hit every ball for six or score off every ball, but one good ball and it’s all undone.  So the idea has been to simplify her game and make it as competitive and clear as possible. Sometimes, that comes with accepting failure. There’s a ball with our name on it, but if we have to go out, we should go out on our terms.”

“Accept that it was to your strength, it was a good delivery that you got beaten off that day. But it doesn’t mean that you’ll get beaten forever or in every innings. You got beaten that one time. You walk off, say ‘well-played’ and say, ‘good luck, I might thump you next time.’”

One season ends, another awaits

Australia flew to Bangladesh for a white-ball tour featuring three ODIs and three T20Is sweeping the six fixtures, the nation’s maiden bilateral tour in this part of the woods. Harris played four of the games in the tour (the third ODI and all the T20Is), batting twice with scores of 47 off 34 balls and 19 off 11. The women in green and gold would understandably have focussed more on acclimatisation to the heat and humidity of Dhaka than any technical challenges against an inexperienced yet spirited opponent.

“They are the legends of the game. Many of our players never played against them. We see them as idols so playing with them is a huge achievement, “ Bangladesh captain Nigar Sultana Joty said ahead of the tour. Her players, though, weren’t too enamoured when on the field. While Bangladesh’s batting just did not turn up, its efforts with the ball posed questions aplenty to Healy’s world champions. 

In the second T20I, Harris was promoted to the opening slot, a move from coach Shelley Nitschke to shake up the order to prepare for injury contingencies. With the experience of an underwhelming second half of the WPL under her belt, it was a more composed Harris on show as she sank into the final international assignment before the team broke for a month-long break. 

Life now is about getting some home renovation done and spending time with family including her dalmatian Dorrie. A stint with London Spirit in The Hundred and a three-match T20I tour of New Zealand await her over the next few months. There’s enough time for one of Healy’s biggest weapons to sharpen its blade and return for a big summer, for her, her team and her country as a transitioning side seeks to underline its status as the best in the world.

Harris the menace
Grace Harris has represented Australia in 11 ODIs and 45 T20Is, having made her international debut in 2015.
T20 is the format of Harris’ specialty, with 474 runs at a strike rate of 164.01 in the international stage. She is a cherished personality in the Women’s Big Bash League and has also set the stage on fire with the bat over two seasons of the Women’s Premier League.
During the WBBL, Harris scored 136 off 59 balls for Brisbane Heat against Perth Scorchers in a 50-run win for her side. Her knock was the highest individual score in WBBL history and saw a record 11 sixes, but the standout moment was her breaking her bat in two. She asked for another bat, but said, “Stuff it, I’ll still hit it!” as she cleared the long on fence.
Grace is a character on the field, an annoying extrovert in a group of introverts as teammate Ashleigh Gardner puts it. Skipper Healy often mentions how Grace tends to describe every single shot she makes and – whether she’s hit a ball right or not –  she vocalises every thought she has, however crude or otherwise.
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