Photo: Peter Argent
Chris Harms, South Australian off-spinner, post-AA Mallett, pre-TBA May. Enough games to make his cricket conversation more interesting than mine.
Observe the off-spinner. Look at the grimace. This is not the face of a man content with his lot. This is the face of a man who, for every moment of his cricket career, is doubting a significant life-decision.
“Why did I choose off-spin bowling?” he asks while adjusting the elastic of his trou to rest under his tummy.
As he ambles up to the crease he knows he has nothing. Absolutely nothing. He may have the strongest fingers and give it a real tweak but the Kookaburra will slide through like a billiard ball off the lino under an ironing board, unless there is something in the track. He may have a little drift, but only if the Kookaburra has been manicured on one side and massacred on the other, and the breeze is in a limited sector from fine leg, the angle of which is about 7.3 degrees. And that comes with its own problems as well, because the batsman has the advantage of launching freely knowing the vector of the breeze will carry even a mis-timed shot.
Worse, the off-spinner knows he is powerless. He has been bullied by the rule-makers who conspire against him. For how can the off-spinner generate any top-spin without bending the elbow and pegging the damn thing. Which is the natural desire of the tweaker; exactly what he wants to do. (Observe the off-spinner’s right arm. Look at how his elbow is cocked, and how part of the grimace is the grimace of the man who, deep down, knows he is guilty for just thinking about it.)
Which is why all off-spinners love Murali like a brother. While the rest of the cricketing world think of him as a terrorist, we off-spinners know he is a freedom fighter. He doesn’t care. He waltzes up and does what he needs to make the ball sing. Over the top. Fizz. Dip. Turn. Bounce. Thanks for coming. Murali is the great liberator.
But most of us don’t have the strength of character of Murali. We wallow in our early decision. As youngsters we could have gone back to the sight-screen and charged in and bowled quick, or rolled them over the wrist. But we chose to be off-spinners. Out of sheer laziness? Out of physical weakness? Out of mental incapacity? Out of spiritual bankruptcy? Why, as children, did we value figures like 27-12-32-0 when we could have bowled leggies and flippers and wrong’uns and zooters for divine figures like 9-0-46-5. And look back now to admit we have always had hearts like suburban accountants? Why so fearful? What happened to us in infancy? In the womb?
And so the off-spinner has to be sport’s ultimate conman. He must stand at the top of his mark and eschew all forms of sighing. He must prance in like a Viennese Lipizzan horse, all high-kneed and energetic; he must get his cocked wrist over the umpire’s hat, the ball of his foot into the debris that allows it to swivel; he may even grunt before releasing a ball which, despite the cosmetic effort, wears about as much as Karen Pini. He must then fold his arms and rub his chin (as the ball is coming back from the extra cover boundary).
No wonder the off-spinner grimaces.
No wonder Nathan Lyon looked as he did at 22, a grim youth for whom undertaking was too joyous a pursuit. (OK for John Bracewell though, who became shaped more and more ike a question mark as his career went on) But what a summer N. Lyon had! Ludicrously left out of the Nottingham Test, he won his spot back.
Will we remember the truth of the Gabba? Who put the fear of God into Carberry? Who softened the Poms up in that afternoon session for the glamour boy to mop up? Who kept doing that throughout the series? Who did not give up his own wicket in the five Tests? (I’m starting the campaign: Nathan Lyon to average 100 by the end of his career). And all this despite the stain with which all off-spinners live; the burden of that early life-decision; the eternal doubt whether a cricket coach who advised us to take up off-spin bowling could have ever really loved us?
Look at the agony on the face of Christopher Harms in Peter Argent’s photo, still trying to find the secret as he approaches his 60th birthday. Still thinking he can find a way. Reminiscing about his second wicket in Shield cricket: G.S. Chappell caught and bowled for a handful at the Gabba (I remember hearing it on the radio having been dismissed characteristically early just around the corner at Bottomley Park v Easts in 1982.)
He still has nightmares about the square boundaries at the Adelaide Oval and resisting the urge to call for the helmet when bowling at K.J. Hughes.
I am told this photo was taken at Chateau Tanunda (which I can believe) and that C.L. Harms got a first-baller when he took the crease, nicking a half-tracker to the keeper.
That is the way the Cosmos treats the off-spinner.
More articles by the Almanac crew HERE.