Simon Harmer: Can Essex’s prolific South Africa spinner worry England like he does county batters?

Simon Harmer averages almost five wickets per Championship match for Essex in his six seasons at Chelmsford
Simon Harmer averages five wickets per Championship match for Essex in six seasons at Chelmsford

It’s not so long ago that Essex’s South African off-spinner Simon Harmer seemed on the verge of playing Test cricket for his all-but-adopted country England.

Despite having already won five Test caps for his native country in 2015, Harmer appeared to be surplus to requirements in South Africa.

There was speculation that, after he had completed four years in the country, he would qualify to play for England on residential grounds.

Brexit put a stop to that. And, in January 2020, Harmer, 33, became reclassified as an overseas player.

But the wickets have not stopped coming for Harmer with Essex, 348 of them now in 71 matches at an average of 20.27. The South Africa cricket authorities have taken notice.

Having been recalled in April, Harmer has been picked in the South Africa Test squad for their two-month red-ball and white-ball tour of England and Ireland and now comes the chance to see what he can really do on cricket’s biggest stage.

226, almost two thirds, of spinner Simon Harmer's 348 Essex wickets have come at Chelmsford
Almost two thirds of spinner Simon Harmer’s 348 Essex wickets have come at Chelmsford

“It’s going to be interesting to watch,” Essex head coach Anthony McGrath told BBC Radio Essex.

“It’ll be a great occasion if he plays. We wish him well.

“Everyone’s delighted he’s getting the chance to play international cricket for his country against England in England where he’s done so well.”

The loss of Harmer will come for Essex at an intriguing stage of the red-ball season.

He has taken 28 wickets in two successive home Championship matches – stunning statistics even by his own high standards – with Essex fourth in Division One, 47 point behind leaders Surrey with a game in hand.

Yet it is entirely possible that Harmer, who is contracted to Essex until 2026, will only miss one Championship match while on international duty, two at the most.

After the next two Championship games – against Surrey at The Oval this week and then at home against Somerset – there is a 39-day break before the domestic red-ball season resumes again in September.

Harmer would therefore miss the game at Kent, while the next away match against Yorkshire starts on the day the final Test finishes at The Oval. So, if the Test ended a day early, that could potentially free him up to play.

South Africa’s three-Test series in England


17-21 1st Test, Lord’s (11:00 BST)

25-29 2nd Test, Emirates Old Trafford (11:00 BST)


8-12 3rd Test, Kia Oval (11:00 BST)

Essex’s remaining Championship games:

(Games Harmer expected to miss in italics)

19-22 July Surrey (a) Kia Oval

25-28 July Somerset (h) Chelmsford

5-8 September Kent (a) Canterbury

12-15 September Yorkshire (a) Headingley

20-23 September Lancashire (h) Chelmsford

26-29 September Northamptonshire (a) Northampton

‘No secrets’ about spinner Harmer

Of the 348 wickets Harmer has taken for Essex, 226 have come at Chelmsford, at an average of 17.48.

He has has taken five wickets in an innings 21 times and nine 10-wicket match hauls there – most recently his career-best 15-207 in the win over Hampshire followed by his 13-156 against Gloucestershire.

Although overlooked by South Africa for the current white-ball series, Harmer has had his moments in the shorter forms too, most notably when he inspired Essex to their first T20 Blast triumph in 2019 – as much as with the bat, at times, as with the ball.

But it is how deadly he has been at Chelmsford that has played such a key part in Essex’s recent success with two county titles (in 2017 and 2019), the first Bob Willis Trophy (in 2020), and a Division Two title (2016) – as well as the memory of that Edgbaston T20 triumph.

Who can forget the sight of him slapping Worcestershire’s Wayne Parnell to the cover boundary fence for the match-winning four off the last ball before wheeling away on a victory lap like a 200m runner taking the bend?external-link

BBC Radio Essex summariser Don Topley, the father of England white-ball international Reece, says the size of Harmer’s hands are of paramount importance.

Simon Harmer
Simon Harmer has previously taken ‘five-fers’ at two of the three English Test grounds he now has the chance to play at for South Africa

“He has huge hands,” said Topley. “He plays a lot of rugby – and you see he never drops the ball, never knocks on. It’s the size of his fingers that help him get to spin it so much.”

However, his familiarity on the county scene will mean that there should be few surprises for the England batters should they come up against him.

“There won’t be any secrets,” McGrath said.

“Most of the England lads will have played against him or got a look at him with all the technology available now. But it’ll be interesting to see how the series plays out.

“What he does is an art. The consistency and level of performance is unreal sometimes.

“When he goes for a four, people ask me if he’s all right. That’s the level he’s at.

“When you see the warm-ups in the morning, he hates losing in football.

“He’s like that with bat and ball. He was gutted when he got a duck against Gloucestershire so you know he’ll come out and do something with the ball.

“He’s just a great competitor. I’ve been in the game a long time and performances and consistency like that are something to be glad about.”

Harmer’s Test career to date

Harmer’s Test career so far has been limited to just seven Tests – but he has still proved just as prolific – taking 33 wickets, with 16 coming in four Tests against Bangladesh and 10 in two matches in India.

That is up with the five wickets per match he has averaged for Essex in his six seasons at Chelmsford.

He took 7-153 in the match on his debut in Cape Town at Newlands in the final match of a three-Test series against West Indies in January 2015.

He then played in both games in a two-match series in Bangladesh in July of that year, taking three wickets in the first game in Chittagong before a rain-ruined second Test in Mirpur.

Four months later, he took 1-51 and 4-61 in Mohali, then 4-78 and 1-64 in Nagpur in the first and third Tests in a 3-0 series defeat in India in the November.

That seemed to be it – 20 wickets in five matches – until being recalled this year for the two-Test series with Bangladesh in late March and early April which caused him to miss the opening game of this Championship season.

Bowling in tandem with Keshav Maharaj, the two spinners twice bowled unchanged from the start of the second innings to skittle Bangladesh, as Harmer took 4-103 and 3-21 in the first Test in Durban, then 3-39 and 3-34 in the second in Port Elizabeth.

Harmer’s record at all three Test grounds he now has the chance to play for South Africa at in August and September is impressive.

He has taken 15 wickets in three games at Old Trafford, 13 in three to date at The Oval – and eight in two matches at Lord’s.

How many more to come this summer? And will be there a South Africa Test series triumph and also another Essex title to go with them?

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