Up until late last year, chances are you would spot Harry Gurney pouring a pint for his patrons at Leicester’s Tap and Run – one of the pubs he co-owns with England fast bowler Stuart Broad – during the county off season. But a remarkable six months of plying his trade across continents and hemispheres has seen his life turnaround from being a T20 outsider to a T20 mainstay.
In November 2018, he flew to Melbourne to represent the Renegades, where his 10 wickets at an economy rate of just 7.17 lifted the side to their maiden BBL title. Midway through the BBL season, Kolkata Knight Riders’ analysts spotted Gurney produce match-winning bowling performances there, and on December 18, he was picked up by the two-time champions for INR 75 lakh (USD 110,000 approx) , via a solitary bid.
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From Melbourne, Gurney made the trip to the UAE for the Pakistan Super League, where his team Quetta Gladiators eventually romped their way to a maiden league title. And while he skipped the Pakistan leg of the PSL, Gurney instead flew to India to practice with Knight Riders coach Simon Katich for his maiden IPL stint.
Nearly half a year on the road, away from familiar surroundings, can take a toll on T20 cricket’s jet setters. But not for Gurney. The IPL provides a life-changing opportunity to many players, especially those playing their first season. Gurney believes that while the BBL allowed him to get into the groove for the season ahead, a limited opportunity at Quetta helped him to be at 100% for the IPL.
“Performing well and winning the trophy in the Big Bash put me in good stead,” Gurney told ESPNcricinfo. “Plus the PSL didn’t feature too much there but I’ve taken that as a positive. It means I’m fresher for the IPL.
“I feel match-ready, and after experiencing the Melbourne derby, I’ve learned to perform under pressure in front of big crowds. It’s not like I’m coming from degree-level cricket. This is the big leagues, so this is the one I want to perform well in and show the world what I can do.”
A left-arm bowler with an uncanny slinging action, Gurney has the ability to deceive batsmen with his quick arm speed. It’s a trait that’s paid dividends over the past few years, especially in the game’s shortest format. What he lacks in raw pace, Gurney makes up for with his wily variations. And he’s always adding to his bag of tricks.
“Probably the main reason why I’ve had T20 success is the nature of my bowling action – it’s a bit unorthodox,” he says. “I’ve been told by batsmen for many years that makes it slightly difficult to pick my variations, compared to someone with a clean action.
“Plus, I’m always trying my best to evolve and add different tricks – not necessarily a new slower ball, but I’ll start bowling a wide slower ball. The latest thing I’m doing is going around the wicket to left-handers, bowling at their heels. So there’s a lot one can do.”
Bowlers with variations are often considered their team’s trump card because of their ability to pick up wickets. Gurney doesn’t need attacking fields and close-in fielders breathing down the batsman’s neck. Instead, he focuses on plugging runs. It’s this plan, Gurney believes, of strangling his opponent, that actually helps him pick wickets.
“I think I’m better as a defensive bowler, that’s how I’ve carved my career, but at the same time my strike rate is pretty good. My belief is that being defensive effectively allows me to get wickets. To be a wicket-taker, you don’t necessarily have to run in with two slip fielders in place.
“Since I first started playing T20 cricket at Leicestershire, all my focus was to restrict the scoring. And these days, statistics show that wickets are maybe not as valuable as people once thought. So my priority has always been on maintaining a solid economy rate. I would much rather get 0 for 20 instead of 4 for 40. And this, throughout my career, has led to me being a wicket-taker.”
It’s a simple thought process that Gurney follows. Focus on the controllables, and you will earn your reward. It is believed that excellent bowlers can get you wickets on any kind of pitch – flat, low, quick or slow – but good bowlers only get wickets when the pitch has something to offer. It’s also said that bowlers who produce varied types of deliveries more often get rewards when the surface is sticky. Gurney, however, has a different stance.
“My opinion is funny,” he says. “You sit in cricket changing rooms and your team is batting first. Your batsmen then come back and give you feedback about the pitch. If it’s a sticky wicket, they say ‘make sure you vary your pace out there because there’s something to offer’. But if it’s a batting paradise, the batsmen say ‘the wicket is very flat, so make sure you vary your pace to make it difficult’. So irrespective of surface, I don’t change my game plans too much. The proportion of variations may differ, and yes, my economy is better on sticky wickets, but on flat wickets I’m in the game longer than the other bowlers due to the same reasons.”
With Anrich Nortje ruled out of Knight Riders’ season, the spotlight is now on Gurney. No one really remembers a breakthrough season for an overseas fast bowler at Knight Riders, but 2019 could be different because of Gurney. He has never lost a T20 final in his life, and given the sort of form he is in, Knight Riders would be banking on the lucky charm in their midst to lift third IPL title.