‘I am not a miracle bowler’

PTI

Delightfully irreverent, bracingly honest, unexpectedly funny, Paul Harris seems incapable of the boring sound-byte that’s the staple of most cricketers, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

“That’s a necessity,” Harris says of his grim bowling method. “I don’t have doosras, I don’t have miracle carom balls, I’m not a miracle bowler. I’m just a steady left-arm spinner. You have to have something else to your self. I’m pretty chilled and relaxed when I’m not bowling, but for some reason when I get the ball in my hands I’m not afraid of the dirty work. You can’t bounce batsmen out as a spinner but you have to be cleverer than the seamers and talk them out once in a while.”

It appears a method underpinned on bluff. So he’s no better than a snake-oil salesman then? “Look mate, perception is reality in the world, and most spinners are like that,” he says.

“They get wickets from what you think they’re going to do rather than on what they actually do. Murali did it for years, Warnie did it as a pastime, he had a great leggie and a slider, he lost his flipper at the end of his career, but most of his wickets were through perception. Batsmen were seeing balls going around corners when it wasn’t necessarily so. He was a master at it and that’s a gift. That’s probably the biggest part of spin bowling apart from being accurate. That’s a lot of what’s happened to me, people have perceived me as not being a very good bowler, and they may have been shocked. Perception is reality, and maybe I can get a few of the Indians to believe that I’m either brilliant or useless.”

Harris might have succeeded at that: he got M. S. Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar in the first Test, clearly the work of a brilliant bowler; but he also got clobbered for six by Zaheer Khan, perhaps not the depths of uselessness but close enough. “I’ve been around for three years now and no one has expected anything out of me, everyone thinks I’m rubbish,” says Harris, warming to the theme. “But I keep getting wickets on most tours. As long as I’m getting wickets I don’t care what people say about me. I suppose there’s more pressure on me in India but that’s why you play cricket. Maybe I’ll continue to shock a few people.”

It seems a difficult way to live however. Surely it can’t be easy being told he can’t so much as turn a doorknob, leave alone a ball, as an Australian crowd recently let him know. “I’m the type of character that it spurs me on,” he says. “I’ve had it all my career, I’ve had it growing up. I didn’t go to the most prestigious school in the world, I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the most prestigious school in the world. I had to play five years of amateur cricket, I had to wait till 29 till I played my first Test match. It doesn’t bother me that much, it actually helps me. When I toured Australia I copped a bit, but by the time I left they took their hat off and said I wasn’t as bad as they thought.”

Harris has enjoyed bowling in India; he says he loves the challenge of bowling to the best players of spin. Does he feel tempted to attack more at times? “We’ve got our gun fast bowlers who bowl quick and scare the life out of batsmen, it’s my job to make sure they can rest when it’s not turning. When it turns I can come into the game,” he says. “When it’s not turning, you’re the one under pressure; when it’s turning the batsmen are the ones under pressure. So the pressure shifts. There is more pressure on the spinner in the sub-continent. India has two or three spinners, we have one. So the spotlight is on you. It’s why I love spin bowling so much.”

Tell him it’s strange that he loves being in the spotlight for an unglamorous part, and he says, just a touch tartly, “I suppose I’m a bit eccentric.” Ah, finally evidence of a chip on the shoulder. “Not at all,” he says. “Maybe it’s a strategic chip on the shoulder. How’s that huh? Maybe it’s a strategy. Maybe a quarter piece of wood in the shoulder, but it’s more a strategy.

Off the field I’m pretty relaxed, I’ve brought my surfing DVDs, and I like to get in the water now and then, there’s not many waves in Napier, they may be a few heat waves but that’s about it. I’m a character and it’s been part of my makeup since I was small. There are a few characters in the team, there’s a young feller called Mark Boucher who’s a bit of a character, but I’m probably one of the main ones.”