| Simon Harmer’s rising stats make for SA hot potato

  • While Kolpak cricketers aren’t every South African’s cup of tea, Simon Harmer’s stats keep reminding of his Test potential.
  • For first-class average when measured against SA’s five top Test wicket-takers, Harmer is second only to Hugh Tayfield.
  • He has seemingly accepted that the door is closed for a switch of loyalty to the England cause. 

Who would dare to suggest with any measure of certainty that Simon Harmer will play further Test matches for the Proteas?

Whatever your point of view, the climate around the national team, and Cricket South Africa more broadly, is just so volatile at present.

While the umbrella body remains embroiled in any number of crises or predicaments, the Black Lives Matter cause has risen to centre stage among many of the country’s players, relegating – at least for the moment – the already sensitive debate around whether Kolpak players should be welcomed back into the Proteas fold.

But the possibility of Harmer, who last played a Test in 2015, resurfacing for South Africa gained at least some degree of traction this week when the sensationally in-form off-spinner revealed that any prospects of representing England have probably been dashed because of changes to Kolpak regulations.

He has been on Essex’s books since 2017 and been consistently prolific for them, including in aiding several trophy successes.

Harmer has started the severely curtailed 2020 county season in a blaze of fresh glory in the four-day Bob Willis Trophy competition, where his match haul of 14 wickets against Surrey, added to six against Kent, has catapulted him to leading tournament wicket-taker with 20 at an average of 13.80 – six clear of nearest challengers after two completed rounds of fixtures.

The Pretoria-born former Warriors stalwart, 31, has reiterated that he would be open to discussions with CSA’s director of cricket Graeme Smith about renewed Proteas candidacy further down the line.

He is clearly at the very top of his game – his decent height and associated ability to generate bounce and healthy revolutions on the ball makes him a serious handful as an “offie” – with statistics that only enhance his case for a Test-level recall.

Judging him against some of South Africa’s premier wicket-takers in that landscape is a relatively low-value exercise considering that he has only played five Tests.

All in the 2015 calendar year, they included a debut analysis of 7/153 against West Indies at Newlands, and despite his relative callowness at the time his overall figures are a promising 20 scalps at 29.40.

So it is probably more educative to measure him up based more on first-class stats against, for example, the five leading Test spin wicket-takers of all time for South Africa … all of whom have also taken at least 100 Test wickets.

On a first-class basis, Harmer currently stands up fairly glowingly against all of Hugh Tayfield (170 Test wickets), Paul Adams (134), Keshav Maharaj (110), Paul Harris (103) and Nicky Boje (100).
Including his prolific haul over the last few days against Surrey, Harmer now sports 628 first-class wickets at an average of 27.35 (economy rate 2.92, strike rate 56.1).

It puts him ahead of all but Tayfield (864) for pure number of wickets … and also with an average that comes in second only to the legendary former KwaZulu-Natalian, also an off-spinner, who died in 1994.

Tayfield’s first-class average was 21.86.

These are the first-class averages of all four of the other top spin wicket-takers in SA Test matches, showing that Harmer narrowly eclipses even the Proteas’ present first-choice slow bowler Keshav Maharaj:

Adams: 412 FC wickets at 32.66

Maharaj: 481 FC wickets at 27.89

Harris: 394 FC wickets at 31.63

Boje: 585 FC wickets at 32.70

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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