Saturday, December 19, 2009

Where is the love for Paul Harris?

He has bowled South Africa into dominant positions against both Australia and England in the past 12 months, yet people continue to raise questions about Paul Harris.

Maybe it's because Geoffrey Boycott told the world that Harris is a "buffet bowler" during last year's South African tour of England. We all know that when a pundit says something then it must be true.

Or maybe it's because he is a little ungainly? It could even be just because he is a finger spinner. Nathan Hauritz also copped an awful lot of criticism before the Ashes and wasn't given too much credit after the series despite a number of brilliant matches.

Whatever the reason, there certainly is no love lost from overseas commentators and fans when it comes to Harris. There are also quite a number of South African fans who are not afraid to say they just don't rate the spinner.

To be honest, any occasional cricket follower will probably think he is nothing special, but cricket fans who have watched him for the better part of two years will know there is definitely something about him. You can see why his captain and coach rate him so highly.

He only picked up eight wickets at an average of 42 during the visit to England in 2008, but he was clearly asked to keep it tight at one end so that the speedsters could attack from the other end. He fulfilled that role brilliantly and Dale Steyn and company clearly benefitted from this.

Next up was Australia and once again before the series questions were raised about Harris. Once again he wasn't rewarded for his brilliant bowling Down Under, but things changed in the home leg and he picked up 14 wickets in the three matches, including a career-best six for 127 in the final Test that won the match for South Africa.

You would think after that display cricket lovers would change their views about Harris, but it's still the same story. Yet in the first innings of the first Test he made several people choke on their words by picking up five wickets. Graeme Swann received a lot of praise after his five-for, but most of Harris' wickets "were down to mistakes from the batsmen" we are being made to believe.

The pressure he created before getting Jonathan Trott to charge down the wicket will go unnoticed. And although Ian Bell deserved all the vitriol that came his way few noticed that the previous delivery had actually spun before Harris changed his angle and sent down a straight one to bowl the right-hander.

He has worked hard since his debut almost three years ago, and maybe in the first 12 months or so people were right to have reservations about his selection, but there's no doubt that he is much more than just someone who is tying one end down.

He may not be able to make the ball fizz past the outside edge, but he's still more than good enough at this level and it's time that people - fans and pundits alike - give him his just deserts.

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