Sometimes in life, you take a stance that is guaranteed to backfire in a major way. Think Hitler invading the Soviet Union. Think Decca Records, who in 1962 rejected The Beatles, saying that “guitar groups are on the way out”.
I’m doing my best to join that ever growing list by declaring publicly that Ryan Harris isn’t in Australia’s best XI for The Ashes.
Harris is currently fourth in the ICC Test bowling rankings, making him a walk-up start for the first Test at Cardiff.
Not many active bowlers have an average less than his 23.52. Dale Steyn (22.55) is one. Vernon Philander (21.95) is another. That’s about it.
Harris also strikes at 50. That is 20 per cent better than James Anderson. Against England, that strike rate drops to 43. If Anderson is the most skilful bowler in the world, then Harris must be the most talented in the entire galaxy. Perhaps even the universe?
Batsmen can’t score off him. His teammates love him. The English have have hired black magic practitioners to poke pins into his voodoo doll.
Harris is a match winner. It’s likely he could win The Ashes off his own arm. However, despite this glowing resumé, he still isn’t in Australia’s best XI, not based on the form of Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
These three men have just come off a two-Test series in the West Indies, using the Duke ball as a weapon of mass destruction. Prior to that, the same three amigos bowled Australia to a World Cup win.
Johnson, despite being challenged recently, is still the most feared bowler in the world.
He physically intimidates. He scares batsmen. He unleashes the ball like punt gun. The ball comes at you from all directions. It will hit your stumps, strike your edge and thud into your pads.
It will hit you. It will hurt.
In his last five Test matches, Mitch is striking at 49.5. That’s world class.
Starc forced his way into the Test team after being the most damaging bowler in the ODI World Cup.
His 150 kph in-swinging yorker could easily be that of Wasim Akram, it is that beautiful, and he proved in the West Indies that he has built the bridge between white and red ball, Kookaburra and Duke.
His latest tour had 33 per cent of his overs being maidens, a strike rate of 36.00 and an average of 16.00.
Alastair Cook and Adam Lyth will fear losing their wicket to Starc more than anyone else. So will Gary Ballance when he strides to the crease at 1/0. Ian Bell might fear it at 2/5. Starc has the capacity to single-handedly have England at 3/10, making him Joe Root’s worst nightmare.
Hazlewood has been a phenomenon. A Glenn McGrath Mini-Me, this 196cm beanpole places the ball on the pitch with the guile of a master sniper.
His West Indies tour landed 12 wickets at 8.83, a strike rate of 2.84 and a ridiculously low economy rate of 1.86. Hazlewood balances out the raw power and left arm angles of Johnson and Starc with his trampolining right arm.
Combined, this trio is brutal. Magical. Intimidating. Clockwork.
They are also winning, and this is important. Their self-belief is a rare find in cricket.
Fast bowlers usually come in pairs. Think Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald
A successful pace-bowling triumvirate is a rare beast, less sighted than the Yeti. However, in Johnson, Starc and Hazlewood, Australia have found their Sasquatch.
There is no need to upset it, especially not for a guy who averages 31.4 and strikes at 70.8 in his last five Tests. Not for a guy who hasn’t bowled at international level since January due to a knee that is held together with cotton thread and a bit of duct tape, particularly when the incumbent bowlers are on fire.
Why take the risk?
This is not a two-Test series against Bangladesh in Cairns, this is The Ashes. You don’t experiment during this event. Australia learnt that in 2013. Remember Ashton Agar?
Just as Fawad Ahmed will make a great understudy to Nathan Lyon, Ryan Harris will make possibly the greatest understudy of all time to Johnson, Starc and Hazlewood.
Am I saying that the fourth ranked bowler in the world isn’t a starter in the Australian Ashes XI? Damn right I am.