In an age when limited-overs cricket was finding its ground and the Twenty20 format was still far from conception, Roger Harper emerged from the Caribbean islands with his all-round skills to find a place in the West Indian side of the 1980s and early 90s, a team that boasted of quality batsmen and fast bowlers. He was an exceptional fielder – undoubtedly among the best produced by West Indies – a handy batsman and a spinner with reasonable skill. One imagines that his skillset would have been of greater value in the shortest format but nonetheless, today, he is busy offering his services as a coach in the Caribbean Premier League with Guyana Amazon Warriors.
One of the notable features of the era in which he played cricket and bowled his restrictive style of offbreak was a constant scepticism that the emergence of limited-overs cricket would spell doom for the tweakers. Nonetheless, that wasn’t to happen. Coinciding with the end of his career was the emergence of one of the finest eras of spinners, led by the likes of Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Anil Kumble and Saqlain Mustaq.
Even today, with T20 cricket gaining ground, spinners have been as relevant as ever performing different yet vital roles – some restrictive, some attacking. Harper believes that is unlikely to change, and sheds some lights on what will help them remain crucial in the shortest format.
“It (success) depends on the skill of the bowlers, the spin bowlers, and what they have to offer,” says the offspinner who claimed 46 Test wickets from 25 games and 100 ODI wickets from 105 games. “Of course, batsmen like the ball coming onto the bat so they can hit through the line easier. Spinners, if they can get the ball to grip a little and change direction, then it creates a problem for batters who are just trying to hit through the line. And certainly if the pitch offers the spinners a little bit of help, then they can create some problems, especially spinners that take the ball away from the batsmen.”
Speaking of spinners that take the ball away, it suits Harper’s plans perfectly that he has the services of Rashid Khan, the Afghanistan legspinner, at his disposal this season. The 18-year-old was a revelation during his stint with Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League earlier this year, where he took 17 wickets from 14 games while conceding only 6.62 runs an over.
“So far Rashid Khan has taken the Twenty20 world by storm. One of the challenges he poses for batsmen is that they have difficulty in reading which way he’s going. He bowls at a decent pace. So he’s quite a proposition,” Harper offers.
Rashid will likely play a crucial role if Guyana are to break the final-day hoodoo. They’ve been finalists thrice in four seasons, but are yet to get their hands on the trophy. Guyana started the current season with a loss to St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, but Harper, their coach for all four seasons, hopes for a more optimistic result this time around.
“We weren’t able to produce the goods on the day when it really mattered,” Harper adds. “But we’ve played some good cricket in those three years. We have had teams that a lot of people said didn’t really match up on paper. But on the park we managed to put it together and hopefully this year we can complete the job.”
Harper, who has coached West Indies and Kenya in the past, believes coaching franchises offers a different challenge and sheds some light into how different the approaches are.
“With the franchises, because it’s a case of personal investment so to speak, with the teams owned by companies or individuals, they are more hands on and more involved on a more regular basis than a country, where you’ve to report to officers of a board. With a franchise, you’re there for a shorter period of time so it’s much more intense,” he says.
But would Harper like to take up a full-time role with an international side again? “I haven’t really shut the door on something like that happening,” he replies. “So yes it’s possible, but the opportunity would have to be the right one, the right team, the right location.”