Paul Harris Talks To The Cricket Magazine

Paul Harris is a busy man.  Having announced his retirement in a meeting with his Titans teammates at the beginning of the year his phone hasn’t stopped ringing.  It isn’t surprising really, given his ebullient presence both on and off the pitch.  He is an immediately affable man who has given himself to every venture and retiring as South Africa’s second most successful spinner (behind Paul Adams) is a testament to his skill in the Test arena.  Alex Britten took on the unreliable South African phoneline to have a chat with him.

You made your First Class debut in 1998/9 but didn’t play Test cricket till 2007 – did you always believe you’d play Test cricket?
It was always a dream yes.  But did I always think I would… yes and no.  When I took Kolpak (to play for Warwickshire) I didn’t think it would happen.  But things fell the right way, and I did, which was brilliant.

So you made your debut against India, in Cape Town, and took 4-129 including Sachin Tendulkar.  What was that like?
Yeah I was pretty stoked!  Actually I claim Sachin as my first ever Test wicket, because the first one in the book, Dinesh Kartik, wasn’t out.  He was caught by Hash (Hashim Amla) at silly point but he didn’t hit it, so I claim that Sachin was my first ever.  I didn’t mind bowling to the big names, it didn’t faze me really.  I just bowled the same to them and I didn’t care.  Mind you, getting Sachin out gave me a real sense of belonging, and I felt that I had earned my teammates respect and belief at that moment.

You only played 3 ODIs, would you have liked to play more?
Oh yeah definitely.  I think my record in ODIs is actually pretty good, I don’t know why I didn’t get more in.  I think that I got put into a box as a Test bowler, and from that point on, I didn’t get a look in for more ODIs.

You mentioned taking Kolpak to play for Warwickshire – how was it bowling in England?
It was absolutely brilliant, there’s a lot more cricket played in England which is great.  You’re on the road much more, you know, you play five days a week then travel for 2 so there’s not much time between games.  It spins a lot in England too, which is good.  The first season at Edgbaston it was really dry and the ball turned a lot which was great, but at the start of the second summer it was quite wet, so we lost a lot of cricket and when we did play, it didn’t spin.

So was Edgbaston your favourite ground?
I think so – I have a strong allegiance to it.  It’s a great place to be.  It might not be the most aesthetically pleasing compared with Lords say, but I have a strong link because I played there.  Having said that, I haven’t been there since it was re done, but it looks really nice now they have upgraded it.

You are one of the most famous South African spinners, but why are there so few spinners in South Africa?
In South Africa there is a huge culture of bowling fast.  Youngsters look at guys like Steyn, Morkel and Philander and they are huge idols.  They’re not looking at the Harris’s of this world!  And in my day, everyone was looking to de Villiers, Donald, Pollock… so it’s not a glamorous world, being a spinner.  Unlike India and Pakistan, where everyone wants to be a spinner because of Saqlain, or Kumble.

So who are the big spin prospects for South Africa then?
There’s a good offy playing for the Warriors called Simon Harmer, he’s a prospect.  The Titans have a good leggy in Shaun von Berg, both guys have taken a lot of First Class wickets and Shaun can bat too.

Now in 2008 you came to England on your first tour and Geoff Boycott had a bit of a dig at you.  How did this affect you?
Yeah he’s an abrasive character.  It was my first taste of negative press and, looking back, I should have dealt better with it than I did.  I’d deal better with it now that’s for sure.  I actually had a bit to say to him in the press, which wasn’t the wisest move.  The UK and Australian press tend to latch onto one guy in a touring party, and single him out.  Back then our top 6 were not going to get any stick, and our quicks were world class so it all got lumped on poor old Harris!  But I learnt to get a thick skin, to not let it get to me and I proved them wrong.  Whenever I’ve been attacked in the press I always proved them wrong.

Do you remember your 100th Test wicket?
(Long pause) Oh…it was against India at Centurion… but I can’t remember exactly.  Oh yes it was Harbhajan.  Harbbie… or was it Gambhir?  I think it was Gambhir?  Actually, it could have been Sehwag – I took 3-fer against them, and it was one of those.  I think it was Sehwag though.

You’ve mentioned some of the guys you’ve played with – how much did you learn from the likes of Smith, Steyn, Kallis and Boucher?
Oh a hell of a lot.  I mean I played junior cricket with guys like Hash and Graeme so I knew them well already.  I couldn’t get anywhere near Jacques though!  In that team, we all fed off each other.  There was no hierarchy, everyone had an equal say and that’s what made us such a great team back then.  I think the majority of the stuff I learnt was the mental side of the game – all of those guys are so strong, so competitive.

So who was the most competitive English player you played against?
Oh KP.  No doubt.

Because of his upbringing in South Africa?
Erm… I’d say so.  I think he would have learned a lot in England about being combative but in South Africa, we are bred to be competitive.  You can see that in how we play our cricket.

Thanks a lot for giving your time today Paul and all the best for the future!
No worries guys, thanks a lot!

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