Talisman Harry, Rock Jacques

In the last couple of days before departure for Karachi, those close to Jacques Kallis knew with a certainty normally alien to the
unpredictable game of cricket that he was going to do something very special in Pakistan.

His business manager and close friend, Dave Rundle, himself a former international, had been with him during much of the unhappiness prompted by his mischievous exclusion from the Twenty20 squad and subsequent relinquishment of the vice-captaincy. He knew better than most the temperature inside his client; if determination could be measured in
degrees, the thermometer would have been simmering.

“He’s going to score a bloody mountain,” muttered Rundle with a grim smile of satisfaction that the disappointment and anger of two weeks earlier had successfully been channelled into positive emotions.

Kallis’ reward is likely to be a Suzuki family car which is the prize on offer for the man-of-the-series. At this stage, there are few
other contenders although second in line might well be Paul Harris whose seven wickets in the first Test and three in the first innings of the second Test have helped significantly to shape the series.

Not to mention his batting! It was difficult to say whether disbelief or pleasure was the greater emotion amongst South Africans
watching Harris compile his 130-ball innings of 46 amidst the match-changing seventh-wicket partnership of 88 with Mark Boucher in Lahore.

There is something deeply satisfying in watching a non-batsman score runs, especially vital runs. It’s the real-life equivalent of watching an Airplane movie with a sweaty passenger landing the stricken jumbo thanks to the gravely, coffee-slurping words of encouragement from the air-traffic control tower.

But there is nothing, and I mean nothing so guaranteed to endear a player to his teammates than shedding blood for the cause. So when ‘Harry’ was sconned by Umar Gul and a trickle of the red stuff appeared on his split ear, every minute he survived thereafter was another step towards hero status.

Well, maybe not hero – but certainly talisman.

The dictionary definition of ‘talisman’ is: “Charm” or “anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.”

Crikey. I’m not sure Harry would enjoy that, but even if he won’t admit it, Graeme Smith will: the team’s luck has changed from the very moment Paul Harris was, finally and belatedly, given his international chance.

South African ‘fighting spirit’ and ‘determination’ have typically been personified by gritted teeth, white knuckles and a grim face.

So when number nine Harry was sitting on his backside with blood trickling from his ear and a sheepish grin on his face, and just two runs to his name, there weren’t too many takers for the notion – ‘The fightback starts here!’ But it did, and it did so with stunning effect. Even Boucher seemed to be amenable to the idea that smiling in tense times was OK.

From the moment he took four wickets against India at Newlands on debut, it was obvious that Harris could bowl. And those who thought the bubble might burst in Pakistan should feel both chastened and delighted.

Tall sportsmen often use their height off the field to look ‘over’ the eyes of potentially irritating supporters. It can be a ‘defence’
mechanism to avoid dull conversation. Not so with Harris. He seeks eye contact and appears to enjoy interaction.

When he was described (by me) as a ‘surfer-boy’ with flat feet and not very good hands last week, he sought me out before the second Test began: “Surfer boy is fine,” he said grinning, quietly proud of having grown up in Kommetjie, “but what’s wrong with my hands?”

“OK, so I won’t win any awards for my fielding,” he chuckled. “But I can bat.a bit.”

Yes, he certainly can.

And he can bowl, too. A hellova lot more than ‘a bit.’

Kallis and Harris. It has a certain ring to it. If Jacques decides to take the Suzuki for a quick spin before splitting the cash equivalent of the prize with the players’ pool, the least he could do is ask Harry to jump into the passenger seat for the ride.

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