May best spinner win: Harris
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Those fond of suspecting and then interpreting smoke signals may have read some significance into Paul Harris, the Proteas’ incumbent main spinner, fronting the first Newlands press conference on Sunday ahead of Wednesday’s Test series opener against Australia.
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The inclusion of attacking leg-spinner Imran Tahir in the Test squad for the first encounter led many to strongly believe until very recently that the Lahore-born cricketing journeyman was primed to replace Harris, the more metronomic left-arm option, against the Baggy Greens.
But it seems as if Gary Kirsten and the rest of the national team’s brains trust are genuinely keeping their options open for Wednesday - with even an outside chance remaining that both will be fielded against the post-Warne tourists to try to give them a taste of their famous own lethal medicine from a few seasons back.
If some theorists are starting to believe Harris’s presence at the media briefing may be a harbinger of his active deployment from Wednesday, another school of thought might reasonably have it that the pride of Fish Hoek was simply an “available” candidate to face the cameras and voice recorders for the general cause on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.
“Harro”, after all, is one of those cricketers ever willing to help out in whatever capacity he can, and he has never lacked any confidence as a public speaker or spokesperson.
Asked about the challenge of being alongside another specialist spinner in the squad, he replied: “I didn’t think I’d be in the squad personally in the first place, so it was a nice surprise.
“Obviously having Imran in the group is nice in giving us another attacking option; he’s deserved his call-up after doing well for the last 12 to 18 months.
“It would be nice to bowl with him, really. Two spinners in South African conditions would be quality ... hopefully we can do that if the deck suits it, otherwise may the best man win.
“I think (spin) is an area we can exploit against (Australia), especially if conditions suit. This is a place where it can turn.”
Harris likes to believe that he and Tahir can be profitably employed in tandem for the Proteas, even if it turns out not to be as early as this Test match or series.
“I hope so ... it worked well at the Titans, where we bowled together for some three seasons and didn’t lose many. These days you play more on the Subcontinent than you used to; it could work there, as well as at certain grounds in South Africa when you play teams who don’t have many regular spinners in their side.
“We know each other’s games quite well; it’s something we could exploit.”
Shrewdly punting the “two spinners” cause further, perhaps, Harris told Sport24 he didn’t believe such a scenario against the Aussies would heap extra bowling pressure - considering that he would probably have to be first-change seamer as a result - on 36-year-old all-rounder Jacques Kallis.
“I actually think he may have to bowl less if we field two spinners - so he’s probably holding thumbs! Of course he doesn’t bowl as much as he used to, but if you only get one and a half spells out of him a day, that’s hopefully all you need.”
Nevertheless, it is tempting to suspect that South Africa only entering the Newlands Test with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel as dedicated fast bowlers is an unlikely event - especially this early in the season when the Cape Town weather has been cool and the pitch breaking up under a barrage of hot sunshine for days four and five is not too firmly on the cards.
They could find themselves in a heap of angst if they do play both Harris and Tahir and there is found to be little in the surface for them: there would simply be too much work for the shock bowlers then, bearing in mind also that Steyn has looked short of top strength and thrust yet and is desperately short of marathon spells given the heavily one-day characterised nature of the 2011/12 itinerary thus far.
Harris said the players were “looking forward to the longer version of the game” for the first time in several months.
“Preparation obviously hasn’t been ideal but the cards have been dealt and we’ve got three days to prepare as best we can now and get rid of any cobwebs that may be there.”
Would it be difficult for the many Proteas players whose last first-class match of any kind was also the final Test against India at the same venue last season?
“It varies from person to person. Most of the players who haven’t had any first-class are senior ones, so they’ve been around for a while and hopefully can adjust quite quickly. But again, the next three days will be crucial to our preparation.”
Asked about a tweet from Steyn on Friday night, where he revealed he was feeling fluey during the abandoned match at Kingsmead between the Cobras and Dolphins, Harris said: “I saw Dale just now and he looks alright to me. I think it troubled him for a couple of days, but it’s probably just a bit of man-flu, eh ...”