Ryan Harris.

Ryan Harris. Photo: Getty Images

Ryan Harris, not Mitchell Johnson, is the real reason that Australia go into the Boxing Day Test 3-0 up. He has shut down England’s top order, hustling batsmen into jerky responses with his sharp pace, offering them no easy escapes with his persistent accuracy.

When he knocked over Alastair Cook, first ball in the second innings at Perth, with a peach that pitched leg and grazed the top of off, he had taken Cook’s wicket as often as any other bowler.

Harris hobbled out of Australia’s last Ashes series at home in plaster. He had produced devastating bowling in Perth to level the 2010-11 series at 1-1, and, after a late start to his Test career, looked as if he was starting to fulfil his potential. Then, in Melbourne, he suffered a stress fracture to his left ankle, limped out a match that England won easily to retain the Ashes, and headed home to Adelaide on crutches.

After a sequence of further injuries he arrived in England in the summer with his place in the side still uncertain and was not selected for the first Test that, of course, Australia lost by 14 runs. He took five for 72 in the first innings of the second Test at Lord’s and was a constant threat thereafter, finishing the series with 24 wickets at under 20.

He identified weaknesses in England’s top batsmen - the fuller ball just outside off stump to Cook, the surprise bouncer to Jonathan Trott, the nip-backer to Ian Bell - and was good enough to exploit them. He was always going to be an essential part of Australia’s attack in the present series if he could stay fit.

He began England’s slump at the Gabba with the wicket of Cook, caught behind pushing tentatively at Harris’s fuller slider.

Harris could have been playing for England in this series. Though born in Sydney he has a British passport because his father was born in Leicester and, while playing for Sussex in 2008, had considered committing himself to his dad’s country of birth. He had a meeting with Mike Gatting to discuss it, but after a lucrative offer from Queensland, pledged himself to Australia.

A late starter bowling-wise, only making his Test debut at the age of 30, he has, in a staccato career constantly interrupted by injury, developed an enviable reputation as a dismisser of top batsmen, and at paltry cost. He has the lowest Test-bowling average (22.45) of any present bowler apart from South Africa’s Vernon Philander.

Quicker than he looks, he is shorter than many international fast bowlers (5ft 10in) but makes light of his lack of height with great control of length. He tends to bowl fuller than many modern bowlers and his deliveries skate off the surface and soar into the keeper’s gloves rather than losing velocity by being banged in short of a length.

This, as much as anything, is the secret of his success. Most modern batsmen are crease-bound and conditioned to play ’back-of-a-length’ bowling with only nominal movement of their feet. Those bowlers who have the control and aspiration to bowl fuller - Harris, Philander, Jimmy Anderson - mine a rich seam of potential victims.

With his colossal shoulder strength Harris is quicker than the other two (averaging around 88mph) but moves the ball less.

He is the closest thing to the New Zealand great Richard Hadlee in the modern game. Hadlee once said he regarded an over as like having six bullets in a gun. He would try to use each bullet to get a batsman into a vulnerable position before killing him off. Harris’s dismissal of Bell in the Perth Test was a perfect illustration of this art.

A succession of outswingers to get Bell moving across his crease, the odd straight bouncer to keep him uncertain, then the alternative delivery angled in which had Bell pinned lbw.

Few fast bowlers get ’bowleds’ or lbws at the WACA because of the extra bounce. Being shorter and fuller, Harris is the exception.

He is 34, relatively old for a fast bowler, but has played just 19 Tests. This means he is hungry for success, and because of his long first-class experience, knows his own game well. He manages to combine an honest and highly personable disposition off the field with a total hatred of batsmen on it.It is a potent combination.

Now that Johnson has re-emerged as Australia’s scythe, hacking chunks out of batting orders, Harris can operate as an electric carver to dice up the prime cuts. England can only hope he develops another fault, and soon.

The Daily Telegraph