Ryan Harris harried line-ups with his pace off the pitch — his ‘effort balls’ would constantly hit the gloves — and that ability to deliver when his team needed him the most. The Sydney-born paceman also displayed great heart and commitment to keep fighting back from various career-threatening injuries.
Harris made his Test debut quite late, when he was 29 — the year was 2010 — but made a telling impact in a five-year Test journey with 113 scalps in 27 Tests at 23.52, strike rate 50.7.
Now, the 37-year-old Harris is a Cricket Australia bowling coach. Sportstar caught up with him in Chennai when he visited the MRF Pace Foundation with his Academy boys from down under.
Question: You had a brief but bright and eventful career for Australia. How do you now look at your role as a bowling coach?
Answer: It’s different. It’s a lot more work. As a player you got a plan in your head about what you want to do. The coach will know what he wants to do with you as well.
But as a coach you got to have plans for different players. It takes a lot of doing but I love the job. I really like what I am doing with a great bunch of young guys.
You have spent some time with the Australian pacemen as well…
I am working in bits and pieces with the Australian guys too along the way. I’ve found it to be very interesting. The relationships I’ve had with the Australian players really helps when I am around them now. They know me very well and I think it has been great.
Coaching too is a learning process isn’t it?
I am still learning, there’s a lot to learn. If you stop learning or stop looking at how you are doing things, you should probably give it away. The moment you think you know it all, you stop growing. You are always learning, in different conditions, speaking to different people.
Having fought back from injuries at different stages of your career, can you tell us how difficult the whole process of returning from fitness concerns is?
It is tough, you keep your belief, work through the period of rehabilitation, keep the self doubts away, think about the positives. Each time I was injured it was a hard job getting back but the desire to play again kept me going.
When my knee went off one last time, I knew I was done. You work so hard, you get the injury. You get a little bit angry. I knew I wasn’t going to be there forever. You have to move on.
You bowled at and troubled the great Indian batting line-up. How was the experience?
Playing against India, Rahul and Sachin and all the big names, was a challenge. I had watched a fair bit of them on television before, I got everything done in my mind as to how I would bowl at them. If you are doing something they don’t like then generally you should be hard to score off. You do your research and you execute your plans. I kept testing Dravid outside the off-stump and one came back. I got him.
You moved your deliveries a lot off the seam…
I just kept the seam up. Not very often did I roll my fingers up or anything. I must have adjusted the seam a fraction in my hand. When it moves around off the wicket, it is just me keeping the seam up. Natural variation, the ball hits the pitch and can go either way. My goal was to keep the seam straight. The wrist was upright behind the ball. If the seam’s up, it gives you a chance to do whatever you can off the wicket.
The batsmen facing you had to cope with the ‘heavy’ balls that you often bowled .
When I was younger I didn’t bowl fast. It was only around 2006-07 that I got myself fitter and stronger. Ran in harder, hit the crease harder. I went from bowling 125 to 130 to 140 and above. I was just looking after myself better. Out on the field you get a bit of adrenaline as well, it kicks in. A lot of people have told me that I bowled the heavy ball. But for me, it was just putting them in the right areas and challenging the batsman. Having extra pace definitely helps.
Mitchell Johnson was your great mate in the Australian team. Can you tell us about the bonds you built in the side?
I sort of knew Johnson before I played for Australia. When I moved to Queensland, he was actually leaving Queensland. But I got to know him before he left. We became good mates. And Peter Siddle. The three of us on tours always used to hang out together. Had the love for cars, loved sports, it was great and a really good time. As bowlers we stuck together, we knew what kept us ticking. In the middle if one of us was getting frustrated the other one knew what to come and say to you. The three of us are in touch with each other a lot these days, speak to each other.
Having operated against several phenomenal batsmen, who was the toughest to bowl at?
Kevin Pietersen was probably the hardest. He is such a big guy, his reach, he gets a long way across. You have to adjust your line. If you missed, he would whack you. When he was at his best, he was a hard man to bowl to. AB de Villers as well. I found him hard, Hashim Amla, he is such a strong player. I had some success against Alastair Cook but he had a series in Australia where he made a lot of runs. Bowling to the best was always a challenge.
The pacemen who influenced you the most in your career?
Jason Gillespie had a tough time with injuries as well. Spent a lot of time next to him and playing with him in Adelaide. Got to know him really well. He’s probably the one I admire a lot. I used to rely on him and ask him a lot of questions. He has always been fantastic.
Who do you think is the finest contemporary fast bowler?
Rabada, he’s an amazing athlete, bowls fast, has fire in his belly, I really enjoy watching him bowl, he’s probably the one at the moment. In Australia we have Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Pattinson, they are an exciting four. Outside of Australia, I would definitely go with Rabada.
Several batsmen are among big runs these days. Who is your pick?
Smith and Warner, they are phenomenal. But Joe Root seems to be getting better and better. He will be one of the greats of the game, with a tremendous average. It’s tough bowling to him. Williamson and Kohli, they are also there. Bit different players those two.
The Aussies have earned notoriety for sledging. Do you think the Aussies crossed the line, particularly in the last series against India?
Not really. We definitely challenge the opposition. India did the same in the last series we played here. It was out of character for the Indians to do it. The Australians succeeded in bringing the Indians out of their shell and take on their game. In the end, it might have seemed that it worked for India but I don’t think that was the Indian way. I don’t think things actually went out of hand. Perhaps some things were said, by both sides, that shouldn’t have been said. Perhaps there was too much attention on what was going on by the media.
That Test series was one of the best Test series I had seen. Everyone in Australia thought the same. It was off-season in Australia when the Test series happened and everyone was watching it. And they loved the fiery banter that was going on. Banter, I don’t think is a bad thing.
Generally, there is a lot of friendly banter than full on sledging. The guys play with each other so much these days, know each other through IPL and other series. If the guys cross the line they know they will get into trouble. If they do that the captain goes down hard on the players and the coach too.
Do teams target some cricketers in particular with words?
There are some guys, whom we feel that if we said a few things, it might put them off their game. Some guys don’t react and you don’t say things to them. Not many said things to Pietersen because he loved the fight. It would fire him up and it would switch him on more, make him more determined.
Your opinion on DRS. McGrath said it ‘killed’ the moment after the umpires ruled a batsman out and then it was challenged.
The DRS is a good thing. It does kill the moment when you take a wicket and then there is a review. But I think it has removed howlers from the game. There are more right decisions these days than wrong.
Who is the Indian pace bowler who has impressed you the most?
I think Umesh Yadav has been great. He bowls fast and swings the ball. He has got better. He has obviously been through some injuries. He is very skilful, both with the new and the old ball. He reverses the old ball particularly well at a very good pace. He’s the one that really stands out. Bhuvneshwar and Shami, they are talented bowlers as well. In India, you obviously see a lot more of spin, but India has some fine pacemen.
When I look at some of the bowlers at the MRF Pace Foundation, there are some really good prospects coming through here.