Ryan Harris is a modern-day miracle worker. A man who has the marvellous ability of being able to convince his fretting knees to follow orders for five gruelling days at a time.
The 34-year-old was a doubt for the third Test but got through well enough to claim four wickets and produce the ball of the 21st century to bowl Alastair Cook. He was in even better nick at the MCG yesterday.
Three years after he suffered a broken ankle in his sole Test appearance at the ground, just one of the galling elements in the painful defeat that handed the Ashes to England and inflicted the sprinkler dance on the world, Harris finally had his day in the sun at the MCG.
He did not match the pace of Mitchell Johnson, who hit 96.8mph in a curiously fast but ineffective day’s work until his incisive burst with the second new ball. And he didn’t find the deadly late swing that Shane Watson produced, before Australia’s great enigma broke down with a groin injury.
But he did something that no other member of the attack managed to do – exude menace with every over that tested the resolve and technique of each batsman while barely giving up a ball from which to score.
Harris bowled 50 deliveries to Cook and fellow opener Michael Carberry. Cook toe-ended one though the slips as he attempted to leave it; Carberry did not score off the bowler before lunch and only managed a clip through midwicket and a flick off his hips after the break.
Three scoring strokes in 50 deliveries did nothing to resist the drip torture nor set the middle order on the path to a substantial first-innings total. But Harris is much more than just a metronome.
He bullocks and sweats when he has to, or the team requires it, but at other times he stands easily in the company of the game’s Rolls-Royce performers such as South Africans Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander or England’s James Anderson.
The swinging and seaming pearl that did for Cook at the Waca Ground underlined his rare qualities while he twice pulled out jaffas to claim wickets against the flow of play yesterday.
Joe Root and Ian Bell were excised in similar fashion as they poked at deliveries just outside their eyeline. The strokes may have been poorly executed but they were stuttering answers prompted by searing questions asked over the preceding hours.
“That is what we didn’t do in England, especially to Bell,” Harris said. “We sat down at the start of the series and concentrated on tying him down. That worked today and the rest of the batsmen too. If we can tie them down and make them make the play, they will have days where they don’t score many runs because of the pressure.
“They are aggressive, normally, but we are not letting them be aggressive.”
Harris could have had the other members of the top four had his fieldsmen been operating at the same stellar level as he was.
Carberry survived a predictable edge to Steve Smith in the cordon as Harris worked him over with the new ball around off-stump, while Kevin Pietersen had two lives on the way to his highest score of the series.
The big right-hander had crawled in painstaking fashion to six when a full-blooded pull went down the throat of Nathan Coulter-Nile on the fence.
The substitute appeared to have the catch under control until he skipped over the boundary rope and was askew with his attempt to hurl the ball back into the field.
Then George Bailey juggled and spilt another pull to midwicket as Pietersen ratcheted up his stroke play as he entered the 40s. Neither catch was straightforward but they might have been taken earlier in the series when Australia’s fielding was considerably sharper with the series on the line.
Eleven Australians may have beaten Harris’s feat of claiming 85 wickets in 20 Test matches but none of them has done it aged 34. New Zealander Shane Bond is the only Test tearaway to claim as many scalps at the same age.
As Harris nears 100 wickets at an age when most quicks have long abandoned the battlefield, his performance is a stark reminder of his ability to get his mind to conquer his body.
Perhaps Harris’s knees are not his only remarkable feature; his heart may well qualify for icon status as well.
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