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Fit-again Harris primed for Aussie clash

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When England Lions paceman James Harris walks out to face Australia A at Old Trafford tomorrow he is set for a far more enjoyable experience than his last major trip to Manchester, irrespective of the result.

In February, following 18 months of intensive cricket at home and abroad, niggling groin pain saw the Glamorgan bowler head north for a double hernia operation that forced him to miss the Lions’ tours of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But that was not the end of his problems.

Further discomfort following rehabilitation caused Harris to miss the start of the domestic season, the 22-year-old making a belated return when Leicestershire visited the SWALEC Stadium at the end of May in LV= County Championship Division Two.

“It wasn’t the most successful thing to be honest,” he explained to when discussing the operation. “I came back after six weeks of rehab and still had some pain in the groin.

James Harris

James Harris, left, is back in the England Lions squad following a lengthy time on the sidelines, having undergone a hernia operation

“It was just frustrating. I could mentally grasp the fact that I was going to miss the winter, but the harder thing to take was having to miss the start of the following summer as well. But the body is in pretty good shape at the moment so I’m pretty happy.”

Harris’ presently chipper demeanour owes much to an impressive return of 5-118 against Kent last month, his seventh five-wicket haul since announcing himself with a first-innings 7-66 against Gloucestershire in 2007 - a match that began on his 17th birthday.

“Everybody has doubts when you go through that injury period and you’re coming back,” said Harris. “You just want to make sure that you settle into the same sort of form from before you left.

“To get a five-for at Kent on a good pitch, getting some good batsmen out with good balls just proved it’s still there.

“Obviously there’s still a long way to go. I’ve still got areas that I want to strengthen, but I feel like it’s coming out pretty well.”

Speaking after his performance at Canterbury, Harris mentioned he had his sights on the Lions’ two-match series against their Australian counterparts and the Swansea-born seamer is revelling in the special atmosphere created whenever the two old rivals meet.

“It’s brilliant; we met up this morning and the boys are buzzing,” he said. “It will be a good challenge; we’ll definitely be gunning for each other.

“Hopefully the make-up of these two teams will be the make-up of the international teams in the future and we can go at each other properly.

Jonny Bairstow

Jonny Bairstow will take his place in a Lions batting line-up that boasts significant Test match experience in Manchester this week

“Anytime you put England against Australia on the field in any sport, let alone cricket with all the history, it’s going to be a pretty tough contest.

“I don’t think they’ve had the most successful couple of games so far, but we’re not going to be underestimating them at all. They’ve got some experienced players in their team.”

Yorkshire batsman Jonny Bairstow returns to Lions duty following his involvement in the three-match Investec Test series against West Indies and feels the tourists’ pedigree is more than matched by an England group boasting eight men capped at senior international level.

“It’s a strong Australia side, but at the same time we’ve got a strong side ourselves,” he said. “I’m sure that with the experience that they’ve got in their side and the conditions we’ll be playing in over here it will be a keenly-contested two fixtures.”

Following James Taylor’s progress from the Lions set-up to make his Test debut at Headingley Carnegie, the three previous incumbents of England’s number six slot aside from Matt Prior in Sri Lanka - Bairstow, Ravi Bopara and skipper Eoin Morgan - are in action at Old Trafford.

Bairstow is unconcerned with any talk of a prospective 'shoot-out' between the three contenders, insisting collective success for the Lions will help individual goals take care of themselves.

“You can talk about that stuff but, at the same time, if you’re in a winning side here for the Lions then that goes a long way towards things,” said the 22-year-old. “If it’s a winning Lions side that’s ‘Team England’ winning as well, and then hopefully you perform and take that forward.”

Still, Harris believes there is an unspoken understanding among his fellow bowlers that they are jockeying for position.

He added: “It’s not talked about between players, but you always know that if you do really well in these games then you’re going to climb up the pecking order a bit and get a lot closer to getting a place in the Test team.

“That’s the way the system works; I think it’s a very good system. It puts pressure on people to perform, certainly, but it really shows that if you do well in Lions games then you’ll eventually get your chance.”

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