The abrupt final curtain

Alastair Cook is bowled by Ryan Harris

“Ryan Harris has retired from all cricket effective immediately.”

The post, sitting right at the top of my Facebook newsfeed, stung sharply. I jolted out of half-attentiveness.

Cricket, at its root source, is entirely unfair, unjust, unkind.

So rarely does a player go out on his own terms that when it happens, it now attracts a Sinatra-esque farewell tour. Steve Waugh received his – and it impacted severely on the team. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were fortunate to sign off with 5-0, but neither had a great last game.

In that same series, Damien Martyn was even less fortunate, giving the game away mid-series. Stuart MacGill did the same. Others didn’t even get the opportunity to name their own finishing date.

Perhaps Australian fast bowlers have been the least fortunate in recent years, however. While Australian spinners – Casson, Hauritz, Krejza, Beer, Doherty, MacGain – have received something short of a fair go, none have been 300+ Test wicket bowlers.

Think of Australian quicks since the 1990s who haven’t been given a good crack – Jo Angel, Stuart Clark, Mike Kasprowicz, Andy Bichel. All outstanding bowlers, all capable of reaching ‘all time great’ status if they’d been born a different nationality.

Now we add Ryan Harris to that list.

A man who, given the right stroke of luck, could’ve played a hundred-odd Tests, taken something nearing Steyn’s or Anderson’s wicket tally, and probably had an average and strike rate superior to either.

Harris took a long time to mature; he started as a medium-quick all-rounder, became a genuinely fast prospect, and made his Test debut in 2010 aged 29.

He proved that graft, hard-work, perseverance and every other synonymous cliché really did pay off.

Ryno became a talisman for grit.

As a bowler, his bumbling, hoicking run up was belied by a smooth, beautiful delivery stride and action.

It came out on the fast side of quick, swung in the air, moved off the deck, started where he planned, finished where he aimed, and more often than not took out the peg he wanted.

Where fast bowlers often look to simply use bluster and bullshit to take their wickets, Harris instead relied on smarts and thoughts. He was quicker, and swung it more, than Glenn McGrath, but still followed in the McGrath mould in a crucial way – the bowler who thinks, rather than hammers.

He was superb in 2010/11 and 2013, but truly came of age in 2013/14. For any Australian, the Ashes is the true litmus, and Harris came out the ideal shade of (baggy) green.

Mitchell Johnson could run in hard, fast, relentlessly. He’d try and take heads off, and scare the opposition into defeat. At the other end came an equal, or tougher, challenge.

And tough really is the keyword.

We’ll all remember the 2014 Test series against South Africa, where he wizarded past the last few South African batsmen on the last day to deliver Australia a series win over the world’s number one ranked nation.

Harris did it, not just in pain, but in a state where he was lucky to be standing.

“Yesterday I didn’t think I was going to bowl another over to be honest. I had a bit of a niggle in the hip flexor which was quite sore. A bit of painful treatment yesterday and last night got me up and going this morning. Now it’s worth it with the win, but it’s something I had to get through and got through okay. The doc [Peter Brukner] was dry needling me, I think I had 30-odd mils [of fluid] drained out of my knee yesterday as well which wasn’t great. But it’s all worth it now. To get through that and come out on top, it’s worth all that pain.”

Mitchell Johnson echoes the tale: “You’ll be sitting up in the viewing room when we’re batting and he’ll go ‘feel this’ and it’ll be a little bit of bone in his knee.”

But now, with the newest incarnation of injury proving a burden too many, he’s walked away. He could’ve kept going, continued to persist – but all he would have done was hinder the young roaring talents of the Sheffield Shield from breaking through.

He’s stepped away suddenly, with an abrupt final curtain, a short bow, and a well-deserved rest.

“That was bloody hard,” Harris said of the third Test against South Africa. But it could so easily have been said of his career as a whole.

Tough, loyal, brilliant, selfless. Unlucky. Never has a haul of 27 Tests deserved to be increased so much.


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