Former Nottinghamshire opening bowler AJ Harris has begun his new role as part of Derbyshire’s coaching staff. The 37 year old will look after the Second Eleven at the County Ground this season after pulling down the curtains on his own first class career at the end of last season.
Reminiscing with him recently over his 17 years in the professional game, it was clear that many of his fondest memories came during the period he spent on the Trent Bridge staff. His initial 6 year stint at Derby brought him onto the radar of the national selectors, with an England A tour to Australia coming during the winter of 1996/97.
“Like all professional players I had ambitions of playing for my country,” he said.
“I would have loved to have played for England but a little bit of inconsistency cost me. I was fortunate to get an A tour which came on the back of a very good season. At Derby we finished second in the championship under Dean Jones and I was pleased that I did get that tour to Australia.”
"I’m still the last man – and only Englishman – to be Timed Out in first class cricket.” AJ Harris
In 2000 he moved down the A52 to join Notts, with whom he spent nine eventful years culminating in a Benefit season in 2008. AJ took 49 first class wickets in our Championship-winning season of 2005.
Although his bowling was undoubtedly AJ’s strongest suit, its AJ’s batting exploits that still linger in the record books. In his first season with Notts he helped add 152 for the tenth wicket with Usman Afzaal in a home championship match against Worcestershire – equalling the clubs all-time best stand for the final wicket.
AJ’s share was 39 whilst his more senior batting partner ended on 151 not out.
“Usman had gone through a really poor run of form,” recalls AJ. “But that innings helped get him out of his slump and he went on to get numerous fifties and hundreds after that.”
The stand had even more significance because the opposition attack was led by Glenn McGrath.
“We tried to fight fire with fire because we had Shoaib Akhtar with us at the time and we planned for him to play in that game. So we produced a wicket that was very conducive to quick bowling – very bouncy and with a greenish tinge to it.
“Then Shoaib unfortunately pulled out before the game so we had to face Glenn, who inevitably took eight wickets on it. It was an enjoyable couple of sessions and it was a bit hairy on occasions because I had to change my grill a couple of times after he’d dislodged it. Then I knocked the run which would have brought us the outright record and stepped back on my stumps meaning that we’d only equalled it.”
If the sight of a Trent Bridge ‘green-un’ hadn’t been enough to fire McGrath up, then a mid-pitch collision with John Morris earlier in the innings had also kept the fires burning within the Aussie.
“Words were certainly exchanged when the two collided when John was trying to run a two,” said Harris.
“That certainly may have brought a bit of needle into it but I think the track more than anything was just ideal for Glenn and enough to keep hi m fired up.”
AJ’s next trip into batting folklore came in early 2003 as Notts sought to get some valuable early season batting experience at home to Durham UCCE. During the students’ first innings AJ had picked up a knock whilst bowling, so wasn’t expected to bat as the home side racked up a mammoth score with Bilal Shafayat and Jason Gallian getting tons. ‘Gall’ had then retired hurt and was unable to continue.
When Greg Smith was dismissed Notts were on 542-7 with only debutant Charlie Shreck and an injured AJ to come. With Chris Read on 94 not out the innings continued.
“During the bowling I’d picked up a groin strain”, recalls AJ. “There was no need for me to bat really as we’d got so many runs and the intention was that I wouldn’t bat but a wicket fell and as Charlie made his way out to the middle I was told to get ready ‘just in case’ as Chris was so close to his century.
“At the time I had my tracksuit on, so I had to start getting that off, my whites on and then start padding up and getting ready to bat. Also because I was going to need a runner, Paul Franks also began getting ready.”
Charlie only lasted three deliveries on his first innings for the county and failed to trouble the scorers. “We were far from ready when he got out but we began to frantically throw as much kit on as we could muster and made our way down the steps and out of the pavilion as quickly as we could but then saw all of the players walking off after I had been given out “Timed Out”.
“As it transpired no-one appealed but I was given out nonetheless and it’s still there in the record books that I’m still the last man – and only Englishman – to be Timed Out in first class cricket.”
Chris Read’s view of those events isn’t known but he did have cause to thank AJ in a Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy match against Durham in 2006. Notts were on a desperate 95-8 when the pair came together.
A career best one day score of 135 for Read was backed up by 34 from AJ as the duo combined with 155 runs for the 9th wicket. Although the match was lost, that stand still remains as a world record for the penultimate wicket in one day cricket.
“Hopefully I paid my dues back to Chris that day!” says the 37 year old Harris.
AJ’s haul of 269 first class wickets for Notts included twelve 5-wicket hauls, with a best of 7-54.
“That came against Northants, with eleven wickets in the match. I really found my rhythm nicely that day, the ball was swinging nicely and the Trent Bridge conditions were very conducive to my style of bowling. The wind always seemed to blow across the ground there – aiding the swing. I’ve walked off there with some fabulous memories”
Between leaving Notts and returning to the County Ground at Derby AJ had a brief tour of the ‘Shires’ representing Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Leicestershire before terminating his career after playing in 147 first class matches and picking up 451 wickets.
“I did plan to play on for another year or two”, he said. “But this opportunity came along and I felt that it was too good to turn down. I don’t think I had too bad a career and I’m very pleased to say that every time I stepped out to play I gave it 100%.”
Dave Bracegirdle is the author of 'What Do Points Make? - The Inside Story of Nottinghamshire's Championship Winning Campaign'. Available now from the Trent Bridge Shop priced £14.99.