‘I’d love to play for England': Simon Harmer played five Tests for South Africa but the Essex spinner is willing to 'jump through hoops' to switch
Simon Harmer accepts it will be difficult, but the man who has bowled Essex to the brink of a second Championship in three years is desperate to follow Jofra Archer and play for England.
The best spin bowler in English cricket leads his county’s attempt to win their first Twenty20 title on Saturday before facing Somerset next week in what has become a Championship decider.
And Harmer knows the extra attention which both bring could enhance his bid to qualify for a country he wants to make home after his ‘gamble’ to accept a one-year Kolpak contract at Chelmsford in 2017.
Essex spinner Simon Harmer is desperate to follow Jofra Archer and play for England
‘I’d love to play for England,’ says Harmer, who played five Tests for South Africa four years ago. ‘I think I’ve shown I have the potential, ability and work ethic to play international cricket again.
‘I’ve certainly proved it to myself because you do wonder if you are good enough. I feel I am now, but how can I proclaim to be the best off-spinner in the world when I’m not competing on the international stage? Perhaps one day in the future that could change.’
It is an intriguing possibility. Harmer is certainly good enough, taking 212 first division wickets at 20 apiece in less than three seasons, the latest seven-wicket haul against Surrey handing Essex a 12-point advantage over Somerset in the title race.
But, as he admits himself, it would take a leap of faith by the ECB to pick a 30-year-old South African who has played Test cricket before, even if he has proved himself to be better than most, if not all, of the homegrown spinning alternatives.
‘There are quite a lot of hoops I’d need to jump through,’ admits Harmer. ‘The ECB would have to deal with the backlash, repercussions and consequences of selecting somebody who has played five Tests for South Africa.
The Essex spinner has bowled his county to the brink of a second Championship in three years
‘But I feel it would be a way of repaying the faith English cricket has shown in me by allowing me to play here. The rules have already been changed to benefit Jofra and allow him to fit into England’s World Cup plans, so if they did want me to get involved they would need to do that again and bend the rules accordingly.
‘I’m in discussions with immigration experts but I don’t know all the Ts & Cs that would need to happen. There’s been talk of me qualifying next year, but the only way that could happen is if they changed my visa and backdated it to when I first came over in 2017. I don’t know if that is possible, but maybe if there’s a will there’s a way.’
Harmer is one that got away for South Africa, discarded after taking 20 wickets in those five Tests. ‘I went from being the Test spinner to dropping all the way back into franchise cricket and I always felt there was a target on my back from the first time I got selected,’ says Harmer (below).
‘People from within selection didn’t want me there, so I had a feeling it was never going to happen again. I was 25-26 and I needed to make a decision over where the future was going to take me and how South African cricket was going.
Harmer will lead his county’s attempt to win their first Twenty20 title on Saturday
‘It wasn’t an optimistic outlook in my opinion and if I was going to play cricket for as long as I could, I had to consider playing as a Kolpak in the UK. I had to do well and it was a gamble, but the security lay here.’
Quota selection in South Africa has long been considered a factor in the Kolpak influx of their players to English cricket.
‘I don’t have an issue with transformation and it’s part of South African sport,’ says Harmer. ‘It’s where we are as a nation and it needs to happen, but as far as I was aware there needed to be five players of colour in the 11, so it did play a part in my situation.
‘But if I’d taken 40 wickets in my five Tests, I would have taken that out of the equation. Ultimately it just means you need to be better to get an opportunity or keep your place.’
Harmer had a taste of the England set-up earlier this summer when his former county coach and a leading contender to become England head coach, Chris Silverwood, invited him to the Lord’s Test nets to replicate the threat of Nathan Lyon.
It would take a leap of faith by the ECB to pick a South African who has played Tests before
‘I felt I bowled well in the England nets and it was turning a lot. I just tried to keep my nut down and bowl as much and as well as I could. Chris is the right man for the job. Everything he’s touched has turned to gold with Essex and England, and he’s a good man. I hope he gets it.
‘Silvers is very good at reading individuals and what would work with them and he’s got a side to him that you wouldn’t want to mess with. He’s got a good balance of being your mate but making sure you know there’s a line you cannot cross.’
International aspirations are for the future. First comes the biggest week of Harmer’s career with Essex. ‘For Somerset to beat us in Taunton would be soul-destroying,’ he says. ‘And I’ve had this movie playing in my head of lifting the T20 trophy, so I don’t know if it will be a dream or reality. But I’m pretty confident we can go really close in both.
‘Somerset are very good in preparing the wickets they need, so we’ll see what we get down there. I’ll certainly be very disappointed if we walk away empty-handed now.’