Batsmen beware, Simon Harmer is on the prowl. Essex have back-to-back Championship matches at Chelmsford starting next Sunday and that spells danger for visiting batsmen.
The South African off-spinner has taken 19 wickets in the previous two matches on his home ground, eight against Nottinghamshire followed by 11 against Kent as he bowled his county to comprehensive victories on both occasions.
Such rich pickings are far from a rarity for the 30-year-old who joined Essex in 2017 and played a vital part in their shock Championship title success that summer, just one year after gaining promotion.
During that memorable season, he grabbed 72 Championship wickets at 19.19, including 28 victims in two successive matches on his home ground. Last summer it was 57 wickets in the competition at 24.45.
He is already on course to surpass both those hauls as he starts next week’s match with Hampshire with 30 wickets in just five matches at 21.87.
“There are a lot of factors as to why I’ve been consistent; the pitches at Chelmsford have been spin friendly so it’s nice to capitalise,” he said. “If your batters are putting in big runs on the board then it is a lot easier for spinners to be attacking and look to take wickets.
“I don’t think people always understand how important it is to bowl in a partnership. For example, if I’m bowling with Jamie Porter or Peter Siddle and they are attacking and there’s something in it for them, then I just need to hold things together from one end and perhaps be a bit boring.
“Then there’ll be times when there’s not much happening for the seamers and I need to attack and become more inventive, try different things.”
In the last match at Chelmsford, Harmer enjoyed match figures of 11-170, his third 10-wicket match haul for Essex and the tenth time that the bowler had taken five or more wickets in an innings in an Essex sweater.
Yet Harmer will not be resting on his laurels.
“I’m always looking at ways I can improve my own game,” he said. “There are always areas where you can improve, whether it’s just scoring more runs.”
The aggressive off-spinner made only five Test appearances for South Africa during which he took 20 wickets at 29.40. All those appearances came in 2015 but the selectors preferred to pursue other options and Harmer took the Kolpak route into English domestic cricket.
Speaking candidly, he admitted that he would love to have played more times for his country.
“International cricket is everyone’s yardstick; it’s really where you make a name for yourself,” he said. “As a player, you want to be competing against the best at the highest level.
“So to turn your back on that is difficult. It was the highlight of my cricketing life to represent my country but, realistically, the way things were looking, it was best for me to pursue a Kolpak deal. Politics plays a massive role in South African sport, it’s just the way the country works and it’s something you have to deal with.
“Unfortunately, the way things panned out, I was always going to be competing against players who, for one reason or another, were going to get selected ahead of me. There was no point kicking up a fuss, you just have to come to terms with it and deal with it.
“So I decided to move on. You can’t let it affect the way that you play or your mindset. I would never have been afforded the oppor-tunity to play as much cricket had I not come over to England.
“I wanted to play county cricket yet not really knowing what it was all about and then to find a club like Essex was unbelievable. So, in hindsight, I’m really chuffed with my decision. Obviously, I need to find new challenges, goals and things to motivate me to want to perform week-in, week-out.”
One of these challenges is the opportunity to lead Essex in the Vitality Blast competition.
“It’s an exciting challenge,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of expectation as we haven’t performed to the levels we know we’re capable of in that format but it’s a challenge I wanted and I’m really looking forward to leading the team in the right direction.
“I really enjoy the changing room, the club and everything about it, and I really want to play my part in bringing more trophies to Essex.”