Apologies to those of you who aren’t up-to-date with the Paul Harris ‘saga’ – you may refer back to my column of a couple of weeks ago to catch up – but the news is that he is ‘going’.
The Titans left arm spinner, leading first-class wicket taker in the Supersport Series last season was offered a trial with English county Warwickshire a fortnight ago and, in the last couple of days, a contract. Trouble is, he has to sign as a Kolpak player rendering him inelligible for national selection. Having taken 49 wickets last year, more than any other spinner since the days of Hugh Tayfield in the mid-1950s, Harris might have expected an encouraging word from the national selectors if not a place
in a national squad. Particularly as the next tour, departing in just two weeks time is to spin friendly Sri Lanka.
Two weeks ago, in this column, I urged selection convenor Haroon Lorgat and/or Cricket South Africa CEO Gerald Majola to call Harris and tell him where he stood with regard to national selection. Even if the news was bad,
they should tell him, I said.
Harris, who has never been contacted by anyone in the upper echelons of Cricket South Africa, did not receive a call from anyone. Let alone a word or two of encouragement. It didn’t appear to be sending a very positive message to those players who perform best in domestic cricket.
Just recently, however, I believe I have started to understand the methodology of Lorgat and Majola, and it could be very, very cunning indeed. Albeit very high risk.
Both having played enough cricket to recognise talent when they see it, they were clearly not simply allowing Harris to walk away from the national game amidst popular cries of “why haven’t we got any decent spinners?” coming from Franchises and fans alike.
No. Their’s was a far smarter plan. Whereas HD Ackerman, Dale Benkenstein, Charl Willoughby, Claude Henderson and Lance Klusener were all past 30 before deciding to nail their national colours to an English county mast, Harris was just 28 – an infant
in spinning terms.
So? Why not let him join a county for two years, perfect his art and hone his skills, even more, allow him to earn five times as much as he would in two years here, and THEN call him up to the national squad? Brilliant!
Clearly this is what our wise men decided. Although, as I said, the plan is fraught with danger. What if their idea to keep Harris ‘hungry’ and’ determined’ by not communicating with him backfires? What if he thinks they actually don’t care? And what if he performs so well in England that he simply can’t leave?
National pride, which is all that has motivated Harris since he was a schoolboy, doesn’t pay the bills. Richard Pybus, Harris’s coach at the Titans, had mixed feelings on hearing the news that his man had verbally agreed on a contract for the next
“I feel desperately disappointed in some ways, for him and for South Africa, but on the, on the other hand, I understand where he is coming from,” he said.
“He was the leading wicket-taker in first-class cricket last year and, seemingly, didn’t even make the radar screen for national selection.”
“I had hoped that there might be some recognition but there wasn’t. If he signs as a Kolpak player then it’s not the end of the road as far as national selection is concerned. He’s still young – there’s a chance, hopefully, that he might still be given a chance after his county stint is over. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he performs very well and is offered an extension, in which case he might be lost to South African cricket.
“There will be a couple of contractual issues to resolve if and when he signs, but I don’t think they will be an insurmountable problem. At the moment the Franchises are allowed to play two Kolpak players and at the moment we only have one in Martin van Jaarsveld, so we’d be happy to continue employing him as long as he can still play for us.”
Is this a sad story with a happy ending? Or a happy story with a sad ending?
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.