By Roderick Easdale
James Harris is having the all-round season that many have long expected of him. Except, in a way, he is not. Going into the current round of matches he was the leading wicket taker in the Championship whereas, by now, the 28-year-old may have been predicted to be an England regular, cosseted away from the county grind.
This, after all, is the Welshman who burst on the scene so young and for whom so much was prophesied. At 14, he represented Glamorgan Second XI and the Welsh Minor Counties, the youngest man to do so for either team.
His Championship debut came a fortnight before his 17th birthday and a few days after this birthday he took seven wickets in an innings in that competition – becoming the first 17-year-old to do so – and match figures of 12-118.
In his fourth game, he scored 87 not out. He was selected for the England Performance Programme and England U19s – he had already captained the U16 side.
Keen for an international career, after the 2012 season he left Glamorgan as they could not offer first division cricket. Eleven counties were said to want this hot prospect, but Middlesex won through.
However things did not go as planned. “I joined Middlesex on the back of an England one-day tour to New Zealand, and then I got injured in my first year here which saw me slide down the pecking order,” he said.
Harris did not play in any of the internationals on that tour. England wanted him to bowl quicker and in doing so he lost rhythm and form. Middlesex loaned him back to Glamorgan.
He won a Championship medal with Middlesex in 2016, but scan the county’s bowling averages and you find him in ninth spot, nestled one place below Dawid Malan and his occasional leg spin. He played in fewer than half the games that title-winning year and last season was loaned to Kent, having become surplus to requirements even in a team sliding to relegation.
Scoring runs has been strangely elusive for much of his career for one with his talent – 11 seasons on and 127 matches later, that 87 not out remains his top score. But this season he has made important runs after a winter working with Middlesex’s batting coach, David Houghton.
“Technically Jim is as good as anyone we have and it’s a mystery to me that he’s not yet got a first-class hundred,” said Houghton. “This year he’s been told that spot at seven is his and that’s given him the extra confidence to bat and bowl without fearing he’ll be out of the team next week and it’s brought the best out of him.”
Harris admits to “a few technical adjustments”, but added: “Having better game plans and understanding situations better as you get older has probably been the biggest difference. It’s been quite rewarding to see some hard work in the winter pay off. I still think I should have scored even more runs – a few times I feel I have got myself out and I have had some poor dismissals.
“But my batting this year has pleased me as much as taking wickets, especially some of the situations I have managed to do it in. The goal has always to be good enough to bat at seven – whether I actually bat there or not is irrelevant – but to give my side that option had always been the goal.”
His captain Malan is “absolutely chuffed” for a team-mate who is “one of the nicest people you could ever meet”.
Malan said: “I am really pleased for him as he moved here with big expectations but had been a little inconsistent in his five years here. He found a way to come back this year and he has taken responsibility with the bat as well and he has scored valuable runs. He always wants to bowl and he’s bowled the most overs for us by far. He is also always the first person into the nets and the last to leave.”
Asked what has been the key to Harris’ resurgence, Malan said: “It happens sometimes that you try too hard, worry about small things, but he seems to have found a way to clear his mind and just let his ability take over.”
So does the Swansea-born former England Lion still harbour international hopes? Harris said: “My England ambitions have never gone away. Absolutely not.”
But has he heard from the selectors this year, words of encouragement, or maybe that he is under consideration for a Lions tour?
“Absolutely nothing. I can only score runs and take wickets – which is what I’ll continue to try to do.”