WPL star, second pick in The Hundred: Meet Grace Harris, Australia’s hit-and-giggle philosopher
@Ben_Wisden 10 minute read
At the start of 2022, Grace Harris had made her peace with the likelihood that her Australia career would amount to the 20 caps she had won more than five years previously.
Now she’s an Ashes and World Cup winner, one of the standout performers at the inaugural Women’s Premier League, and was the first overseas player picked up in the Hundred draft for 2023.
A broken jaw for Beth Mooney afforded Harris a path back into the Australia setup, and she has grabbed her chance, nailing the role of the middle-order T20 batter, one of cricket’s hardest. Her first knock back in international cricket was a 20-ball 37 from No.7, reviving Australia’s chase in their Commonwealth Games opener against India, and she added 132 runs off 65 balls for once out in a high-octane, high-scoring series win in India later that year.
In the WPL, she is yet to be dismissed for less than 30, her campaign marked by a series of vital interventions. She began with an unbeaten half-century in UP Warriorz’s first game, hauling her side from 105-7 to a target of 170, 70 runs smashed off the last four and a bit overs, and ended her group stage with a rapid 72, breathing life into another chase to seal qualification. And she’s done it all with a grin on her face, sharing a laugh with whoever her batting partner is to bely the pressure usually associated with a game on knife-edge.
She spoke to Wisden.com the morning after being picked up in The Hundred, where she will play for London Spirit, also the day of UP Warriorz’s Eliminator against Mumbai Indians, to discuss chocolate cake celebration rituals, having a giggle in the middle, and why Test cricket couldn’t be further from her mind.
How did you find out you’d been picked up in the Hundred draft?
It was Sophie Ecclestone and Lauren Bell and myself sitting on a bed watching the TV and I was thoroughly excited, and so were they! There was a little bit of screaming from them, but it was pretty good. It was pretty good viewing and it’s an exciting occasion for myself, because I haven’t played yet in The Hundred so I was pretty keen to see what it’s like.
I knew that teams were interested, I just didn’t know that I’d get picked straightaway. I figured I’d get picked a little bit further down so it was really cool to see my name pop up early, and when London Spirit got me I was very excited about Lord’s being a home ground, that’s outrageous. But yeah, I knew about some teams being interested just because they were asking whether I’d pull out after I got auctioned off and there’s no chance that’s happening unless I’m injured so it should be good fun.
People enjoyed your samosa socks at the WPL. Have you got anything similar planned for Lord’s? Maybe eggs and bacon to match the MCC?
Maybe not food, but I do have the English guards, you know the Buckingham Palace guards? I’ve got those socks and I wore them in the most recent Ashes series, they might make a debut out in The Hundred, the London socks. It’s either that or it might be a bulldog.
Rate Grace Harris' choice of socks out of 10 😄#WPL2023 #WomensPremierLeague #GraceHarris pic.twitter.com/oTc7JqarUf
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) March 21, 2023
How have you enjoyed the WPL?
It’s been an experience, that’s for sure. It’s been very good fun learning the different culture here in India compared to Australia, and how they run cricket, how they think about cricket, as well as just the crowds that have shown up and the organisation. We get chocolate cake every time we win at 2am. We’re all back into the hotel and there’s clapping and there’s a bit of a celebration. So I’m gonna take that back directly into the Brisbane Heat franchise and say ‘Where’s that chocolate cake after a win thanks?’ I want the standing ovation too when we walk back into the hotel! It’s just been a heap of fun and just a really good experience.
You’ve had a great competition from a personal point of view, and one thing that marked your two big scores is how you reacted under pressure, just laughing and having a joke in the middle. Is that a trait you’ve always had, or is it something you’ve had to work on?
It would be a trait that I’ve always had, but I felt as though if I showed that side of me earlier in my career or life, then people probably wouldn’t think that I was taking the game seriously, or that I wasn’t really concentrating, that you’re not going to do your job playing cricket in a tighter scenario like that. As I’ve developed as a player I’ve felt a little bit more comfortable within myself in the role that I play and how I wanted to play cricket within a team environment, and I’ve had the girls accept that as well as the team that I play in accept me, and how I play the game: That I am taking it seriously, but I actually enjoy cricket, and I will show that on my face [laughs] or in my body language. So yeah, I’ve always wanted to do it. But sometimes I hold back a little bit just to meet outside perceptions.
Is that ever an issue in franchise cricket, when you have to join up with a new team who won’t know you that well to begin with?
I just kind of have this philosophy in my head that they’re either going to like it or they’re not, so if they don’t like me, too bad, they can get rid of me, or in franchise cricket, they just simply don’t sign you again. But if I’m having fun and whatnot, it’s the best version of me that I can bring to the team. So if they don’t like that, then they may as well sign somebody else I guess. That’s the cut-throat world of professional sport and franchise cricket. I’d hope that I was encouraging of other girls and a good enough teammate that they’d want to keep me on whether I have a giggle after hitting a six or not, you know?
Your celebrations in the dugout seem just as big as you’re on the pitch. Is it easy enough to form that team bond, even when you’re only with each other for a couple of weeks?
Not to sound stupid, but I actually celebrate like that even if I’m sitting in my hotel room, and I’m watching a game of cricket. It kind of just comes naturally to me, the whole celebration of wickets and whatnot. When I see a really good ball bowled, or if you’re watching it tactically, you’re thinking, ‘she’s gonna bounce her here.’ And then they do it and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I would have done the same thing, how good’s that?’ I just enjoy watching the game as a fan and a spectator, so when you’re sitting off, I just take that approach to it. It’s not so much, woe is me. I’m sitting in the dugout having a great time.
How do you adapt to the differing demands of opening the batting or coming in in the middle order?
I’m fine if I’m just given a role. It’s not so much a number next to your name when you walk out to bat. As I’ve developed as a player, I like just knowing that I have a role within the team, and this is what I bring. My philosophy around cricket, it’s always been: bat me wherever the team needs me to bat, but just make sure that you’re clear that when you coach me when I fail in the role, that it’s similar messaging. It can’t be contradictory every game. So if I get out really cheaply, but you want me to strike it at 150, you cannot criticise me because that isn’t a consistent role. If you want me to strike it at a run a ball and I keep getting out cheaply then fair enough because you have to take less risks striking at a run a ball and you can play more consistent cricket. So as long as I have that kind of communication with the coaching staff or whoever’s in charge, then I’m set, it doesn’t matter where I bat.
To take an example from men’s cricket, when Joe Root plays a reverse scoop in a Test and it goes for six, everyone says it’s great. And when he does the same thing and gets out, people can be critical.
That’s exactly right. That’s the one side of cricket that I hate and I hope that I am never like, I will encourage every one of my teammates if they’ve got the reverse in their game, and if they’re playing it, and it’s successful for them, I’m gonna encourage them to play it, as long as they are playing it to the right ball. If they try and keep reversing from a ball outside leg stump, and they keep getting out, then obviously you don’t reverse from that line, you know? So I’ll be consistent in that messaging. But I’ll never say, oh, no, you’ve got to put away that reverse sweep, I don’t know why you’re playing that. I never want to be like that.
Eighteen months back, it had been more than five years since your last international appearance. Now you’re a World Cup winner, an Ashes winner, a franchise star. Did you see any of it coming?
I did kind of think that I was done with international cricket. I thought that maybe my time had passed, I’d just simply be a domestic player. And especially the Australian team has been so dominant for so long that, it’s so hard to break into. You’re gonna have to just keep biding your chances and waiting it out. Maybe you get picked, maybe you don’t, but you just roll with whatever comes your way.
You came back into the side in the Ashes, but it wasn’t until last summer, against India in the Commonwealth Games, in a tense chase that you finally got a bat. Given this was your first innings back after so long, did you have a point to prove?
Not really, to be honest. I actually just walked out and went, ‘We need some runs on the board [Laughs]. And if I come off I come off and if I don’t, that’s life’. I’ve always just taken more of that approach. It’s never really been like, whether I’m good enough for this level or not. I just enjoy cricket. I just like playing cricket. So when I walked out against India, the very first thought was, ‘yay, I actually get a chance to bat today’, because I’ve sat on the bench with my pads for the last eight games that I’ve been selected for and just fielded. In my head, I was just telling myself, ‘I’m always just a specialist fielder. Lucky I can catch, better work on my arm!’ But I walked out against India I just thought, it’s time to have a crack. And it went from there.
And then in India that winter, you had another excellent series. Were you thinking at the time that this might get you a WPL deal?
That was more from the coaching staff, if I’m being honest. The staff, and the players around me were like, ‘Put your name down for the WPL after these innings Grace. Are you entering in the draft, Harris?’ While I was in India, I just wanted to reach 200 on the scoreboard just once for those T20s. We had such a fast outfield in the venues that we were playing at, we had a flat wicket, and I was just looking at the team that we have, and I was like, ‘we’ve got to get to 200’. And it turned out I just had a good series. I was mainly just thinking about the cricket that was played at that time. I wasn’t thinking too far ahead, especially, because I’ve not really cemented a spot in an Australian line-up. If I’m being honest, I’m still a fringe player at the international level. Maybe those digs in India, that time in the middle, that might have got me some credits in the bank.
It’s amazing that you’re able to recognise that your position in the international side isn’t secure, and yet still enjoy it so much and play in such a free-spirited way.
The way that I see it, is they’re gonna drop you anyway. So you may as well have fun whilst you’re in the side. If they’re gonna drop you, they’re gonna drop you. It’s out of my control, whether they select me or not. So as soon as I get in the XI, I’m just having a crack. So that’s kind of how I rolled with it. Outside of that, well, it’s up to them. They can pick whoever they they want, especially in the Australian team, because we’ve got that much depth back home, it’s fine. We’re a fill-in team, anyone that goes down, they just seem to replace them with another person that stands up.
Looking ahead, before The Hundred there’s an Ashes Test, and then there’s a Test in India in the winter too. Is that something you’re thinking about?
Aw, Benny, no chance! One format at a time, mate! It’d be fantastic if I got selected but I am not holding my breath. I think I’m definitely seen as a slightly more aggressive player than what Test match cricket is after these days. And I’m probably actually a little bit older too. They might want to invest in a bit of youth. I’m just spitballing here but in my opinion, the Australian cricket team, maybe they want to get some young ones to spend some time in the middle, develop their skills using a couple of Test matches in the calendar year. It’s a long time to bat, you can figure out what kind of player you are.