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Socks, snacks and sixes - Harris shares recipe for success

Aussie allrounder on the serious subject of not taking cricket too seriously

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Hold your catches, sprint every run and win the key moments - it's an ethos which has led the Australian Women's cricket team to two ODI world titles and four T20I World Cups in the past decade. Not some mystical aura and certainly not a pair of lucky socks.
The concept of executing every little detail better than the opposition to gain a competitive edge might at first sound slightly at odds with the relaxed, cheeky persona of Grace Harris. But is it really?
As someone who used to dip into an "Esky" (cool box) for snacks while fielding at fine leg or leave a sweet hanging from her mouth while she flung out the hand that put it there to take a slips catch and who more recently said "stuff it, I'll hit it anyway" before smashing a six with a broken bat in a jaw-dropping WBBL innings, Harris doesn't immediately scream 'attention to detail'. But she does keep things logical.
"A lot of people talk about the gap that the Australian Women's cricket team has," Harris tells ESPNcricinfo's Powerplay podcast. "But to be honest, England, Australia, India, they all come now with franchise cricket, they all have a very high performance program, every country that I can think of has at least contracts now for the women's game, so if you're going to have all the same resources, of course cricket's going to be competitive because that's generally what happens.
"Then it comes down to your talent and your ability to handle the mental stress, I guess, in a game, or the competitiveness in the moment. What Australia has done very well over the past five, six years is they've won those moments, the key moments."
As an example, Harris points to Harmanpreet Kaur's run-out during India's T20 World Cup semi-final defeat to Australia last year when Harmanpreet's bat sticks in the pitch short of the crease as she "jogs" a second run and she finds herself out of her ground as Alyssa Healy whips off the bails.
"An Australian player probably doesn't do that in that moment, they're probably running through," Harris says. "I haven't really seen Beth Mooney jog two in a game.
"If you look at little key moments in games and how the Australian women's cricket team, some of the players, have approached the moment, I think that's the difference, not some gap that's made up or just, I dunno, an imaginary line.
"I can't fault our domestic setup. It's very competitive and it's well run and I think we get the most opportunity to try and be placed in those pressure situations so that way then if you are selected for Australia, it is just the same as you in Big Bash and it's just simply about performing again in the moment. So yeah, we've had the programs in place, but now that everybody's got programs in place, surely you can't keep saying that that's the reason that we're the best."
Likewise, when you see Harris wearing her trademark loud socks bearing images of burgers and fries or the like, that's "freedom of expression" which started at a charity event rather than luck.
"No, I don't have that part of my brain working, there's no superstition for me," Harris says. "I know that there's a lot of girls, they sit in the same seat on the bus, they change their bat grip every game, you've got to put your left pad on first. No, I kind of am very logical and I think that if I haven't prepared then I haven't prepared and that's my own fault.
"If I get beaten by a good ball, I get beaten by a good ball, but my socks were just always freedom of expression. I guess it's the only part I can control and if I get to have a bit of fun with it or enhance my sock game, then so be it."
Food is a popular theme in Harris's sock collection and, as it happens, life. And while she says she's "blessed" with a metabolism that allows her to get away with more than some would, it's "all about moderation and you got to be able to live as a human being". As long as she gets the job done, who's to argue?
"I was kind of cheeky as a younger player and I'd stuff lollies in my pockets if I ever had to feel at slip," she says. "In between balls I would whip a snake (sweet) out of my pocket, chuck it in my mouth. If they nicked off, one day I just went from mouth to ball and just caught it one-handed.
"The captain wasn't very happy with me. I was like: 'What can you do? At least I caught it still.' I think if I dropped it I probably would've been in more trouble. That's how I've rolled a lot throughout my career. If I do it then it's done, and if I don't do it then you can say something about it."
That's not to say Harris doesn't take her sport seriously. What started as fun, friendship and camaraderie amid "some horrendous fitness sessions" at club level became much more when a coach told her she was too talented not to test her ability to become the best cricketer she could be. But she also worked out how to do it her way. And in this Australian side that is embraced.
After she took a screamer sprinting in from mid-on and launching herself into the air to dismiss a dangerous-looking Chamari Athapaththu at the T20 World Cup a year ago followed by two wickets in an over, all the talk was about Harris and Healy, the Australia captain, was happy to oblige.
"I'm actually pretty sure it was Tahlia McGrath's catch and Grace called her out of it and wanted to take a hanger, but full credit to her for hanging on to it," Healy said at the time. "That's sort of a key moment to get a key batter in that instance. She was loving herself sick out there in the field watching the replay, but it's nice to have a character like that on the field… She's a great person to have around our side not just for her personality, but for her skills."
On Australia's recent tour of Bangladesh, where they swept both ODI and T20I series ahead of a return later this year to defend their T20 World Cup crown, Harris scored 47 opening with Phoebe Litchfield in the second T20 as Healy dropped right down the order and didn't end up batting at all while Mooney came in at No. 9 in an impressive test of the side's depth. No doubt Harris's contribution with the bat was welcome as much as her personality on a tour she says "felt a little bit like a Covid trip" with limited ventures outside of the team hotel or cricket venues.
"You have to prepare for who you're going to play against, which is what I think this team do very well," Harris says. "I think they also get the most out of the ability within the squad. We've tried a couple of things recently just to test our adaptability and our resilience and I must say it's definitely a team that has one of the higher resilience levels that I've ever been a part of this season.
"For instance, we've missed Christmas, we had Christmas and New Year's in India, Easter in Bangladesh, so if you think about how you live as a human being and you take away the key holidays of your year where you'd spend a lot of time around your family, it can be challenging-ish.
"Not that cricket's too challenging, but I think with that mentality the girls all really get along and they just make the most of every opportunity that they get. It's been quite fun to be around and the coaching staff are very relaxed and they allow you to still be a human being as long as you take cricket semi-seriously."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo