Smith hints at late change by spinning decision to play Harris

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The best laid plans of South Africa were yesterday gurgling down the drains here. After insisting that they had finalised their Test team in the second and final warm-up match against Middlesex at Uxbridge last weekend, the Proteas have been forced into a rethink at the last minute.

While the focus has been on the tourists' fearsome pace attack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Makhaya Ntini, it had always been their intention to include the left-arm spinner Paul Harris in the starting line-up for the first Test against England which starts here today. Now attention could well turn to Harris because he is almost certain to miss out on selection – and be replaced by the pace bowler Andre Nel – if South Africa's captain Graeme Smith is to be believed.

"Going into the match without a spinner is a consideration," admitted Smith yesterday. "Obviously with the weather there's a couple of things to consider. I know it's forecast for showers pretty much throughout the Test match so I guess we have to take a few things into play. We shall decide that tonight.

"[Playing without a spinner] is something we have not liked doing of late," Smith added. "We have felt the need to develop a spinner in South Africa, but just with the weather conditions and the general way Lord's has played lately it is now a consideration."

Yet only a couple of days ago the South Africa coach, Mickey Arthur, stated: "We have made the decision that any good Test side has to have a frontline spinner. For too long, we played without one. I cannot see any team in world cricket getting to where you want to be – obviously No 1 – without a spinner. Playing against the four teams who play on the sub-continent, you need a spinner to be an integral part of your side. We've given Harry our backing, the confidence – he knows he's going to play. We want to make sure he knows he belongs."

Now Harris is not so confident. In fact, he is probably sure he is not going to play, yet his value to South Africa should not be underestimated, a fact supported by the veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who said earlier this week: "He's had some good series. He played a big role in helping us win against Pakistan.

"He's come on leaps and bounds in the last year. It's given us that extra option, where we've sometimes considered going into a Test match without a spinner. He's covered that role, and we don't even really consider that any more. We know he's going to do us a job, whether it's holding or picking up important wickets along the way."

The change of mind, if indeed Harris is omitted, can be explained partially by Smith's determination for his side to be flexible. "Being able to adapt on our feet is going to be key for us," Smith said. He insists that despite not having won a series in England since their readmission to world cricket in 1992 – drawing one and losing two – morale in the South Africa camp is high. "Generally the confidence in our team is good," he said, and since South Africa have won all three Tests that they have played at Lord's since returning to the fold, perhaps that optimism is not misplaced.

Yet even so, to feel obliged to rip up Plan A at the last minute and feel obliged to conjure up Plan B and omit Harris might yet leave them in a spin and threaten their record at headquarters.