SA to lose ‘another Pietersen’?

The worst thing you can do to a likeable, modest and successful South African cricketer is to compare him to Kevin Pietersen. So a huge, unreserved apology must go to Titans left arm spinner Paul Harris because…I am about to liken him to the former KZN off-spinner now playing as a batsman for England.

Apart from their ability on the field, the two men have very little in common. ‘Harry’ does not shout his mouth off, does not indulge in bling fashion accessories or rent-a-model girlfriends and, above all else, the last thing he would do is slag off the country of his birth.

Harris has wanted to play cricket for South Africa since he was a little boy and he still does, just as much as he ever did. But there comes a point in everybody’s life, sportsman or not, when you finally have to give up on your dreams in favour of something more practical and attainable.

One of the saddest sights in sport is the 35-year-old golfer/cricketer still chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow while the best years of his life and a series of failed relationships float away in the wake of his pathetic existence. Give it up – it’s not going to happen for you. Get a job – anything.

Alright, that’s very dramatic and of course, it doesn’t always happen like that. Sometimes sportsmen with a dream realise they aren’t going to be good enough almost immediately and are able to change their life course without so much as blinking. Others genuinely play the game for the love of it, despite being professional, and are happy to scrape together a modest living without the complications of a driving ambition to be the best and to represent your country.

Then, there is another kind of sportsman who has to give up on his dreams – the Paul Harris kind of sportsman who has always believed that honesty, hard work, talent and good results would be enough to rise to the top. Apparently not.

When he was a young kid in Cape Town he was told he’d better leave because playing in the shadow of Claude Henderson at Western Province would hinder his career. So he listened and, bravely, headed up north to Centurion.

For season after season he’d try to make the best of limited opportunities – often on green wickets that favoured the seamers – and he improved all the time, year after year. But year after year he was ignored by the national selectors.

Then, last season, he really showed them. Claiming 49 wickets in the Supersport Series at an average of 21.48 was the best first-class performance by a spinner in South Africa since the days of Hugh Tayfield in the 1950s. But last week, when the squad to tour Sri Lanka in August was announced, the name ‘Harris’ was nowhere to be seen. Neither is he on the ‘Emerging Players’ tour to Australia next month. Paul Harris, it seems, is nowhere.

Time to give up on the dream? Maybe.

That English county with the strong South African ties, Warwickshire (McMillan, Donald, Pollock etc) have invited Harris for a trial this week with a view to offering him a contract. Not just any contract, mind you, but a Kolpak contract which would make him unavailable for national selection. And Harris will seriously consider it. Not that he wants to abandon his country. But if you feel you’ve done everything you can to make your dreams come true, and they still haven’t happened, then perhaps the time is right to change your focus. Like Henderson, Dale Benkenstein, HD Ackerman, Charl Willoughby, Lance Klusener etc, Harris could make a good living in England. It’s not what he would have chosen, but it makes sense.

“I am going to Warwickshire on Thursday for a trial,” Harris said this week. “If anything comes of it then I will have a big decision to make. It would mean me giving up my right to play for South Africa and that would be a big decision to make,” he said from England where he is playing for Fleetwood in the Lancashire League. “I haven’t had the best of luck with the national selectors so far. I was passed over for the Sri Lanka tour which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.”

And the worst part about the story is this: so far, Harris has had exactly NO communication from anyone in higher authority at Cricket South Africa or the United Cricket Board. No “We’ve got our eye on you, keep going” or “We want you to take 50 wickets in a season “or “We want you to improve your batting.” Nothing.

So I’m ending this column with a plea to selection convenor Haroon Lorgat and CSA chief executive Gerald Majola.

PLEASE could one of you call Paul Harris and tell him where he stands. PLEASE don’t let him just walk away, as Henderson did. He doesn’t even want to go!

I have his mobile number if you need it.

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