Essex v Lancashire: Harmer hoping to turn heads again
PUBLISHED: 07:00 20 April 2018
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With the sun due to shine relentlessly on The Cloudfm County Ground for the next four days, in marked contrast to the inactivity at Headingley last week, Simon Harmer will relish the buzz of expectation that will herald his every stride to the crease.
Things tended to happen whenever the ball was in the South African off-spinner’s hand last season as he claimed 72 Specsavers County Championship wickets in Essex’s title triumph.
Memorably, he took 14-wicket hauls in successive outings at Chelmsford in June, posting career-best figures of 9-95 against Middlesex and 14-128 in the match against Warwickshire to lift home supporters out of their seats.
“If you look traditionally at the game in England, the leading wicket-takers have always been seamers,” said Harmer.
“So for the crowd to have expectations of a spinner to take wickets is a compliment to my game and what I achieved last season.
“I won’t feel any extra pressure, but it will be nice to know the crowd has a belief that when I come on to bowl there’s a chance of wickets.”
In the 54 weeks since he made his Essex debut in the corresponding fixture against Lancashire, today’s opponents, Harmer has taken 119 first-class wickets in 22 games.
Back home, Essex’s kolpak signing finished top wicket-taker in the red-ball Sunfoil Series with 47, 14 more than anyone else and having played two fewer games.
“It’s been a really, really good year and I’m very happy where my four-day cricket is at,” he added.
“But, for me, I’m not worried about the stats; I’d rather have trophies in the cabinet.”
Having established himself as one of the leading spinners in the world, 29-year-old Harmer has shifted this summer’s focus to upgrading his all-round white-ball game.
“I want to start breaking into some of the bespoke leagues in the off-season,” he said, his eyes primarily on the IPL and Big Bash.
“I feel confident enough now to start venturing into a new challenge and trying different things. Not that I’m going to forget about my four-day cricket.“I feel going back to South Africa and performing the way I did, I feel a lot more confident going into this season. If I was to do as well as I did last season it would be incredible.
“But if I don’t take 70 wickets I’m still setting my sights to do better, and if I fall short, so be it. As long as the ball is coming out right, and my game-plan’s good, then if things don’t go as well for me, then that’s okay, I’ll be putting the work in, not resting on my laurels.”
Harmer is targeting the lucrative white-ball scene as he contemplates turning his back on South Africa cricket, just as Cricket South Africa turned its back on him under their controversial selection quota system, after just five Test appearances in 2015.
“I think kolpaks are seen as the black sheep – it’s embarrassing for South African cricket that somebody who is not eligible to play international cricket is topping the wicket-taking charts. They would much rather me just being an average Joe and coming in the middle of the wicket columns.
“But the kolpaks are the cream of the crop and Cricket South Africa are hell-bent on getting rid of us. So last season was my way of showing them that I’m still good enough and that I’m happy with where my game’s at.”
For a bowler who finished only behind team-mate Jamie Porter in quantity in his first county season, Harmer did not make an immediate impact on debut against Lancashire, wheeling away for 51 overs and only having the first-innings wicket of Steven Croft to show for his efforts.
“I really struggled getting to grips with the Duke ball,” he added. “I found it hard to grip the way I was used to holding the Kookaburra ball. I remember the first game being challenging, and you want to try and perform and get some wickets straight away.”
However, it all came good in the end.
“Hopefully this season will be, in comparison, as good as last season,” he said. “But if it’s not, I think I’m mature enough to realise it’s not always going to be sunshine and roses.”