Tipped as one to watch off the back of an impressive Ashes debut, last weekend Grace Harris became the first woman to hit a century in the inaugural Rebel Women’s Big Bash League.
In just 52 balls the young Queenslander drove, cut, pulled and ultimately tonked her way to an eye-catching innings to guide the Brisbane Heat to their first win of the tournament. She’s got the goods, and not just on the pitch either.
In Harris we are witnessing a player make the transition from potential to proven. It is performances – and attitudes – like Harris’s which are imperative to the evolution of cricket. This is especially the case in a world in which every possessor of a firmly struck on-drive is hailed as the next Steve Waugh.
With wall-to-wall coverage and detailed statistics available at the touch of a button, expectation for many young players can be overwhelming. This week the Perth Scorchers’ captain Brad Hogg implored fans and critics alike to be patient with his outfit’s young spinners, Ashton Agar and James Muirhead. Both made early international debuts, both have since had to rebuild after loss of form and injury. Expectation at times can be crippling.
Harris, it would seem, couldn’t care less about expectation. Her approach is simple: live for the moment and have fun. After her history-making ton, Harris described the mid-wicket chats with her Brisbane Heat batting partner, Beth Mooney.
Watch: Harris heats up the WBBL
“It was see the ball, hit the ball – and I might have spoken about food a few times,” laughs Harris. “I think Mooney was talking about smoking it over cover and I was like, ‘You just pick the ball and you go for it.’ We just tried to stay as positive as we could.
“It’s Twenty20,so you can’t not have fun in this game!” she added before her sister, Laura, who also plays for the Brisbane Heat, chides her for thinking about food during her innings. “I was just after ice cream,” admits Harris.
“When I hit the century, Mooney came down the wicket and it didn’t really click to begin with, and then she said that I had made it because everyone was standing up, and I just said, ‘Ice cream! Ice cream!'” Steve Smith rewards himself for each century with a bar of chocolate. Harris, it would seem, prefers ice cream. Perhaps a sweet tooth is the secret to success?
While Harris’s on-field antics will hopefully be turning heads for seasons to come, it’s her off-field demeanour that makes her such an attractive player and interesting personality. And a fantastic ambassador for cricket, let alone women’s cricket.
It goes without saying that the high-profile figures of Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy are models of perfection when it comes to showcasing the women’s game. Yet Harris is different. She has an element of je ne sais quoi about her, a rawness and roughness around the edges which is hugely endearing.
Women’s cricket is a game in transition; not yet fully professional but at the highest level full of dedicated athletes absolutely committed to their sport. The Lannings, Perrys and Healys of the game are the face of the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars, ambassadors who represent the culmination of hard work and natural talent. When it comes to interacting with the media, they’re the consummate professionals. In the men’s game this is de rigueur, but less so in women’s cricket.
Harris, who doesn’t have the same intensity of spotlight, is more open, and it’s brilliant. Not everyone has the fortune of a quick wit and a terrific personality, but Harris does. The beauty of the WBBL is it is revealing the characters and personalities who populate women’s cricket.
Watch: Harris, Mooney keep Heat sizzling
As the women’s game inexorably moves towards the professional era, it would be a shame to lose the Harris’s of this world along the way.
With the advent of social media, particularly Twitter, journalists and fans rejoiced at the prospect of a new frontier; finally a portal into athletes’ inner thoughts and private lives. However, with the odd exception such as the often-entertaining Kevin Pietersen outbursts – his latest about airport lounge dress codes – athletes’ Twitter accounts are often superficial chat dominated by banter about who is better at Xbox, or carefully composed sponsored Tweets.
Grace Harris’s Twitter account is one of the most entertaining and perceptive you’ll come across. Her cover banner reads “Nobody cares, work harder”. She tweets about the colourfully decorated socks she wears to each match – cupcake for her century, if you were wondering. She knows her stuff too, tweeting about the symmetry of Martin Guptill’s innings scores during the recent Test series in Australia. It was two days later before the same theme was picked up by other regular members of cricket’s press boxes.
Harris is part of the new generation of Australian cricket. She’s got the goods on the pitch, and she’s a personality off it too. Women’s cricket has the potential to forge those media-player relationships that are slipping away from the men’s game, and Harris is exactly the individual to deliver it.
Grace Harris, don’t ever change.