By Chris Bailey
HE’S had a career-long battle trying to impress the ECB and spent last year re-modelling his action on Brett Lee.
Now James Harris is done with all the tinkering and tweaking that had resulted in his form hitting a wall at Middlesex – and has warned other young bowlers against ripping up the script for England’s sake.
Harris arrived at Lord’s with all the fanfare of an England star in the making two years ago after taking more than 200 first-class wickets for Glamorgan by the tender age of 22.
With that kind of record it seemed only a matter of time before the selectors came calling but Harris, who had worked his way up the ladder through England age-groups and the Lions, was told that he lacked the requisite pace to climb the final rung.
After injury niggles hampered his debut season at Middlesex the bid for extra pace started in earnest last summer, and a return of 17 wickets – at an average of 47.29 – was the ugly result.
“We can argue that we did find that extra pace last season, but at the expense of certain skills that had made me the cricketer that I was,” said Harris.
“Both of my arms used to go up together in my action which is what I’d always done when I was young, and we went in search of a Brett Lee-style lead bowling arm which would create a split in both arms and that extra pace and torque.
“It would make me quicker without trying to put any more effort in.
“That was the theory, and it had been around for some years. People had been talking about changing things when I was 16, 17, 18 through England programmes.
“I’d always said No. I was happy with where I was, but there’s only so many times you can hear that if you do what you do with an extra yard of pace, you’ll be that bit closer to playing for England.”
And Harris conceded he was not the only quick bowler in recent times to have lost their way while trying to fulfil England’s wishes.
Middlesex teammate Steven Finn has struggled for consistency since trying to tweak his run-up after his brushes with the non-striker’s stumps, while early-day Jimmy Anderson suffered back trouble in efforts to ‘fix’ his action.
“I’ve learned that once you get to a certain stage you can only tweak what you do well to get better – you can’t rip things apart in search of ludicrously vast improvements,” said Harris.
“There do seem to be a lot of cases where people try to improve but go backwards purely by losing out on the things they do naturally by trying to make things even better.
“It’s a really interesting process going through the ECB and they mean incredibly well and give you so much time.
“But I think people should back their natural ability more.
“I don’t blame myself, though, for trying something different.
“There are similarities with Finny and also Jimmy Anderson, he ended up with stress fractures and going back to his original action.
“They tried to shorten Finny’s run-up, it worked for a period time but he’s now reverted back to his old style.
“Once you pass a certain age, people are what they are.”
It reached such a point last season that Harris returned to Glamorgan on loan – to an admittedly mixed reaction from some of the support – as he searched for an antidote to his rut.
But after a period of reflection over the winter, a fitter and stronger Harris, still only 24, is confident he can still yet find the extra yard he is looking for – only this time relying on nature and not nurture.
“Going to Glamorgan was a chance that I jumped at but I got a few interesting comments from the Welsh public – one of them asked me if I’d come back with my tail between my legs which was a nice one to feed me live on radio!” Harris said.
“You’ve got to expect that and the people and Press who had said I shouldn’t have left probably felt that they’d been proven right.
“But I’ve always been on brilliant terms with the Glamorgan players, coaches and staff.
“Everyone has low ebbs. You can have confidence in your ability but that only comes through your performances. It was eroded last year and there were definitely times when I lost my height, action, and wasn’t really hitting the seam – I hit a low ebb.
“I’d always said that I’d do whatever’s best for my career so I don’t regret moving to Middlesex at all, it still gives me the best chance of winning County Championships and playing for England.
“That’s still the goal and why I moved, but we had to say at the end of last year that it wasn’t working. It was probably not the best timing because I should have got some real performances in for the club before we started tweaking with things.
“I’ve done a little bit of strength work over the winter and I’ve probably found more pace and what I was looking for in the first place by doing that.”
If Harris owes Middlesex a debt then he has begun to repay their faith this season, snaring four wickets in the first innings against Nottinghamshire in the Championship opener.
His second-innings performance – 1-116 – suggested that there is still a way to go before his consistency returns but after joining forces with Tim Murtagh to bat out for the draw with an unbeaten 36 from 120 balls he is desperate to prove a point at Lord’s.
“I’ve still got a lot of things to prove to a lot of people at the club – I came here as a big signing and that winter I was one of the more talked about players in the Press,” Harris said.
“I have a lot of ambition which is why I came here and I haven’t lived up to that at the moment.
“But I’m feeling confident and with the work that I’ve been putting into my game and I’m hoping it will pay dividends.”
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