Max Harris spoke to Jon Batham of the ECB Reporters Network.
Middlesex’s Max Harris admits had he been more of a loner his sporting career would have travelled a very different path.
The seam bowler, who turned 21 last week, has been a fixture of the Seaxes’ Royal London Cup campaign in the wake of making his first team debut in the Vitality Blast earlier this season.
Yet, until a few years ago, London-born Harris was more of a whizz with a racket in hand, excelling at both badminton and especially tennis.
And he revealed it was the quest for camaraderie which saw him reject one dream of sending down 130mph serves at Wimbledon in favour of bowling at something approaching 90mph at Lord’s instead.
“I played a lot of sports when I was young, especially a lot of tennis and badminton, so split my time between those two and cricket,” he said.
“I was arguably a better tennis player than a cricketer because I kept on trialling at Middlesex but never got in until I was maybe 16 or 17.
“I played my first academy game at 17, so I was kind of a late bloomer, as I wasn’t fully focused on cricket, but as soon as I started playing for the academy the other sports dropped off.
“I love tennis, it’s a really good sport, but it’s a very lonely one and I’m definitely more of a team man. If you win or lose at tennis you can go back to your coach or whatever, but that’s not the same as going back to the dressing-room in cricket after you’ve won where everyone is up and you’re singing the team song. There’s nothing really quite like it.”
Harris, currently studying for a degree in marketing at Loughborough University, didn’t always see himself as an out-and-out pace bowler either.
As an August baby he was one of the youngest students in his year group at school. Consequently, he was one of the smallest among his peers and developed physically at a slower rate than most. So his early cricket experiences were as a medium pace all-rounder.
All that changed in his late teens however, when he discovered the benefits of another sport – Olympic weightlifting. The resulting hours in the gym honing the techniques of snatch, and clean and jerk, have produced the pace and power required to move him into the genuinely quick bracket.
And while Middlesex’s 50-over campaign ultimately ended in disappointment after back-to-back losses to Gloucestershire and Sussex ruled them out of the knockout stages, Harris used his ‘wheels’ to good effect, adding the notable scalps of Dominic Sibley and Cheteshwar Pujara to his curriculum vitae.
“Olympic weightlifting is the best thing for building up your power because those guys are ridiculous athletes and with fast bowling power is the most important thing alongside technique,” he added.
“So, the weightlifting and just growing into my body were the things that saw me bowling decent pace. And it helps with hitting the ball a long way too.”
Harris is the youngest of a quartet of North Middlesex CC players – the others being Ethan Bamber, Joe Cracknell and Luke Hollman – to progress into and through the academy of the Lord’s tenants.
It begs the question, what is it about the Hornsey-based club which is provoking this conveyor belt of cricketing talent?
According to Harris, rather than anything in the north London water, the secret is the club’s ethos of a welcoming, enabling environment, but one where no favours or freebies are granted.
“I always thought there was a little bit of luck to North Middlesex producing all these first-class cricketers and that it might just have been a coincidence we were all born in the same area, so went to the same club,” he added.
“But all the other clubs seem to only have one, so maybe it’s not a coincidence. All the senior lads in the team include you with everything and make you feel welcome, so you actually want to go to the club.
“My first senior game I was 12 or 13 and started in the 5s. It wasn’t a case of these guys play for the county teams in their age-groups so we’ll put them into a higher team. You had to earn your stripes, put in good performances and then you’d move up.
“There was always the sense I’m not going to be gifted anything here. I need to work hard and then I can play in a higher team. So it was a good environment, but a hard one and quite competitive, involving having fun but needing to be highly motivated as well.”