Grace Harris channels inner Dhoni to give Brisbane Heat their first win

Grace Harris flicks a delivery off her pads. © Getty Images

Perth Scorchers had stolen their biggest star. Their captain had retired. And their pace spearhead – who doubled up as one of their most explosive hitters – had also jumped ship. Ahead of the sixth season of the Women’s Big Bash League, the pundits expected Brisbane Heat to fold without a fight. They were depleted, severely so. The three peat was simply a dream.

Contrary to popular opinion, however, the defending champions got their campaign off to a splendid start, annihilating the Scorchers in their first outing at the North Sydney Oval on Sunday (October 25).

At the centre of Heat’s seven-wicket win was allrounder Grace Harris, who clobbered a 37-ball 53 including five fours and three sixes, to help her side overhaul their 133-run target with three overs to spare. The 27-year-old shared an important 78-run third-wicket stand with wicketkeeper-batter Georgia Redmayne (37*) that took Heat within 10 runs of victory.

“As a team, we actually haven’t really been reading much into the hype. We love the chat and we love the way that the competition itself is,” Harris said of the team’s ‘underdog status’, following her player of the match performance. “We want to go out and we want to win all of our games, so it is good to get our first win on the board – that’s always crucial.”

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Harris’ innings got off to an uncharacteristic start, with the right-hander poking and prodding her way to 11 off her first 18 deliveries which included as many as 11 dot balls. She looked extremely uncomfortable against Scorchers’ overseas import Sarah Glenn, who attacked the stumps and got the ball to skid off the surface and hurry the batters. It was only when Nicole Bolton came into the attack, that Harris began to find her range, cracking two sixes and a four off her next three balls.

It was just the release Harris needed at the time. She smoked another 26 runs off the next 16 deliveries, quite brilliantly playing the role of a finisher.

Having scored a record-breaking hundred in a club match in the lead up to the WBBL, put down her early success to a change in mindset that allowed her to fight through a scratchy start before she she cashed in.

“I think it’s just about batting a little bit smarter in that middle order,” she explained. “I think with the structure of our team, that’s probably going to set us up for the best success over a longer period of time.”

“As you saw today, I definitely struggled at the start to get off strike, but in the past I probably would have just panicked a little bit there and either run past one or just had a crack at one or try to go large too early. I thought that Glenn bowled very well to me early. She changed the pace really well. She bowled a really tight line, made it hard for me to get away and then bowled nice under the bat yorkers. So, I just had to stay a little bit patient out there chatting with Georgia Redmayne in the middle, and just try not to panic. I know that I’ve got the ability to catch up, so it’s just about finding that now.”

At the start of the WBBL, Harris batted largely at the top of the order – first for Melbourne Renegades, and then for Heat. Her role was to take advantage of the powerplay and find the boundary as often as possible. However, with the departure of Heat’s batting centrepiece, Harris has been moved to the middle and entrusted with more responsibility – to bat as long as she can and finish games.

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“It definitely is a mindset change for me, and a little bit of a change of role as well. So, if I was playing up front I was generally told just to go out and have a good crack and try and get ahead of the game as quickly as I could up the top. Now that I’m sitting in that middle order role, with four [fielders] already out, it’s about trying to get in and go deep into the innings.”

Grace Harris continued her good form for Brisbane Heat with a swashbuckling half-century. © Getty Images

Grace Harris played some spectacular shots through her innings. © Getty Images

The allrounder said she put in plenty of work through the off season, and formulated a gameplan that she felt would work for her. It is a strategy she devised having watched one of the greatest finishers in white-ball cricket – a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

“I’ve been watching a lot of MS Dhoni innings – I took a little bit of inspiration from him. He’s a fantastic finisher of the game,” she said. “He might get behind [the rate], but at the end of the game, they win games and he’s ahead of the count and he really takes the game away from the opposition, so I’m definitely hoping to do something similar to that.”

“It (my mindset) is something that I have worked on in the off season and I’ve found that it’s really just working for me – the gameplan that I’ve got. I know again, that I can catch up. It doesn’t natter how many dot balls I play. It’s not ideal, and you obviously want to try and rotate strike as early as possible especially with four [fielders] out – you want to be hitting sweepers hard and getting as many runs on the board as possible. But in situations like today where I struggled early, it’s definitely just remaining in a calm mindset.”

Having rocked the apple cart early in the tournament, Harris and her Heat teammates will be keen to carry their momentum forward. The allrounder is aware that she will need to be consistent to give her team the best chance of winning as many games as possible. In other words, she must continue to channel her inner Dhoni.

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