Though she happily takes centre stage on the mic every summer with her headline-grabbing role as the Brisbane Heat's big hitter and bigger personality, there is much of the likeable Queenslander that remains unknowable. Which is exactly how she likes it
Private I: The magic & mystery of Grace Harris
Spend a few hours with Grace Harris and a simple fact soon crystallises: she talks like she bats. Prior to each response, there is the briefest pause – little more than a drawn breath – as she weighs up her options. Then, once she is away, the thoughts come in a hurry, the words tumble out, and there are precious few opportunities to reel her in. Sizeable statements punctuate proceedings, most more considered than one might initially suspect.
And therein lies the magic and the mystery of this 29-year-old Brisbanite, best known for smashing balls and burgers, and her general buffoonery on the Big Bash player microphone. Because while all of the aforementioned forms an aspect of the character Harris wants you to see, they also serve as a classic misdirection. A sleight-of-hand the everyman misses every time.
"When the mic was introduced into the game, the first thing I did was go to specific people I trusted, and I actively sought advice on how to go about it," she tells cricket.com.au.
"Because there's multiple ways. You can be like 'Pez' (Ellyse Perry) and just simply (give) cliché answers. Or you could be like Maxy Bryant, who just goes 'Yep' – the one-word responses."
Harris is self-aware enough to know she had something else to offer. So she chose to be genuine – "I enjoy cricket, I'm going to laugh and joke at cricket" – but tellingly, she also opted to be strategic, mostly with what she didn't say; while the extrovert in her happily basks in the spotlight, jarring with that is an aspect of her personality that stands as a fierce protector of her privacy.
"We're in the business of entertaining," she continues. "I can entertain you on the field and off the field – with jokes and whatnot – but you're not entitled to my private life.
"If I know a journalist wants to get to something, sometimes I purposely talk for a long period of time, because then they can only ask one or two questions.
"So maybe I'll come across as being dumb, or a bogan, or whatever, but I don't really care, because I stay enough of myself in the (answer), and then I also get to control the narrative.
"And that's what people don't realise. That's something I'd never tell journos. Until now."
* * *
The high point to date of Grace Harris's second coming was delivered on a silver platter to the door of her Mumbai hotel room at around 3am on Tuesday, March 21.
Hours earlier, Harris had blasted a match-winning 72 off 41 balls for UP Warriorz in the inaugural Women's Premier League (WPL). And a fortnight before that, she had endeared herself to India's cricket-loving public when, in a post-match interview following her first decisive half-century of the tournament, she told Harsha Bhogle she would be celebrating the victory with drinks and a burger – if, indeed, she could manage to find one.
"I'm in a bathrobe, teeth brushed, ready for bed, when the phone in the room starts ringing," she says. "It's reception and they're like, 'Ma'am, there's a burger down here for you'. I said, 'It's not mine, send it on', and the next minute they're knocking at my door …"
Harris wisely shouldered arms to the gifted burger, but the episode elucidates her broader recent story which, in a little more than 12 months, entails: an international recall she never expected to come; two winning World Cup campaigns; a Commonwealth Games gold medal; a T20I series win in India; and a six-figure contract and starring role in the landmark WPL.
A natural raconteur, she recounts the conversation with national selection chair Shawn Flegler that led to her return to the Australian squad with the sort of comic enthusiasm that makes her the annual go-to option on the player mic whenever the Heat are playing.
"I'd got this Australia A selection out of the blue and we were in Canberra playing England A in a T20," she says. "I was one of the only people (in the squad) old enough to drive the minivan, and after the game 'Flegs' (Flegler) jumps in.
"He's like, 'Grace, I've got some bad news, Beth Mooney has broken her jaw at training today'. And I was like, 'Oh, that does suck. Who's gonna open?'
"I'm just driving along (mimics two hands on a steering wheel), and then he was like, 'I've got some good news – I'm picking you', and I was like, 'Oh! OK … you're not opening with me are you?'
"And he was like, 'We've thought about it, but Meg (Lanning, captain) said no, she wanted someone else to open, or she wanted to open, or something – I'd actually stopped listening by that stage, because I was thinking: Holy smokes, he thinks he's going to open with me?!
"Anyway, he said, 'Congratulations', and then I was like, 'Well, I'll just drop you at the front door here, Sir Shawn Flegler, get out please, I've gotta ring Mum!'"
Harris's surprise was well founded. It had been six years since her last stint with Australia, a virtual lifetime ago for a cricketer who has experienced considerable highs and lows while also transforming herself as a player and a person in the intervening period.
"I'd actually given up on international cricket altogether ages ago, and I was completely fine with that," she says. "Domestic cricket already runs for nine months in the year, so I was like, 'No, I play enough'. And we'd started to piece together a really good culture within our state set-up and our Big Bash team."
Her first stint in the Australia set-up had encompassed 20 white-ball matches across 17 months as a 21-23-year-old. There were glimpses of her potential littered throughout an otherwise fumbling start to her international career, which took in travel to the UK and Ireland, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
Harris remembers it is a challenging period. She was young, and naïve to the wider world and the place of an international cricketer within it. She also found the daily structure to be at odds with the autonomy she was accustomed to at home.
"I think I found it suffocating when I was first in there," she says. "I felt like I was treated like a child, but they wanted me to behave like an adult.
"And I hated just being away. I didn't know just how much of it was travel – different hotel rooms, different time zones.
"And we were semi-professional, so you never really had the financial freedom to know what you could afford on the road.
"To be honest, I didn't really care that I was dropped … it was just less time on the road for me, essentially. But it was a bit of an eye-opener."
Harris also felt much less assured in her game than she does today. Back then, she says, she was selected as "a gap filler … but I was still learning how to bat, how to structure an innings".
In a way, that education was stymied by her own prowess when she returned to the state set-up with Queensland. Harris was a singularly destructive figure in the domestic women's cricket landscape, and coaches utilised her as such.
"I got pigeonholed just into a power-hitting role," she says. "It was just, 'No, you just go out there and try and hit every ball for six'.
"The role did suit (me), and that's how I want to play T20 cricket, but at the same time, I probably didn't learn anything."
And that's the other thing you need to know about Harris – the concept of self-improvement is one she has grappled with for years. For while the funster on the Big Bash broadcast is perennially happy-go-lucky, there is considerable substance below that surface.
"I always have (thought a lot about my game)," she says. "I probably haven't always shown it, or due to roles that I've played in the past, not a lot of thought has really been required.
"But when it comes to really breaking down my game, I've always watched vision and enjoyed the process. I like doing it for opposition teams, too, in terms of how I'm going to bowl, and then from there, it's simply about the execution."
Harris has a natural curiosity that leans towards scepticism; rather than accepting something at face value, she wants to know the why or the how. It is a healthy mindset to have when striving for self-development, though the fact she tends to voice those thoughts so bluntly has also led to clashes with coaches.
"I was cynical of a few head coaches, or just coaches in general," she says. "A lot of coaches … build your confidence, tell you you're the greatest, and you're like, 'Well, no, I want to get better, so stop saying just fluffy stuff'.
"But then if you holed out at long-on it was like, 'Did you really need to play that shot?'
"'Well, you've encouraged me to hit over the top – if that's a strength, you either back me in, or you don't. Or, teach me how to play it better'.
"I'm more about actions than words. I want to see it done. I don't want you to promise me the world, because I think so many people are full of shit."
* * *
While she is away for the Ashes this Australian winter, Harris has put her mum, Maree, in charge of overseeing the major renovation of the old Queenslander house she recently bought in Ipswich, just beyond the suburban outskirts of south-west Brisbane.
It is a ramshackle little fibro place on an 800m² block, roughly 25 minutes from the Harris family home in the Brisbane suburb of Oxley. For Grace, the third of four Harris children, the impending change is bittersweet.
"It'll be a positive and a negative moving out of the family home because it's where I've always lived," she says. "Had my whole childhood there. I've always liked home. But it's so exciting to have my own house. Something that's mine."
The childhood memories are of backyard sporting contests (her younger brother David bowling like Muralitharan, her elder sister Laura's savage slide tackles) and camping trips, and more time spent "riding our bikes and getting up to mischief than playing Crash Bandicoot".
Harris has become an aunty in recent years and the move to Ipswich will bring her closer still to her brother as well as her eldest sister Eliza ("a no-coordination athlete," she laughs, "and the only person I've ever met that swam the Mooloolaba triathlon doing breaststroke"), and their respective families.
"We value family," she says. "We value spending time together as a family, we value making sure we're alright."
Harris talks about having gained perspective in life through adversity. In cricket, one unintended consequence of that has been an apparent flippancy at times in the face of defeat, which has irked teammates.
"They go, 'Well you don't even care'," she says. "And it's like, 'Well, I do, but I realise that there's people out there who are probably struggling a lot more, and in my private life, I know that there's a lot worse out there."
It is here that she draws a definitive line separating entertainment and privacy. She understands, to a point, the public's appetite for information about their sporting heroes, just as she sees why Cricket Australia (CA) believes its players should help promote the game.
"But I don't owe the public my entire life," she says. "I want things that are mine.
"I might talk about some stuff if it comes up, or if it's found out, I'll address it if I have to, but I'm not interested in sharing certain parts of my life with the public.
"(The) adversity (in her private life) affects the people that I love, and I don't care what you guys think, because I'd rather protect them, and I care more about their opinions than I do the stranger on the street."
It is also why Harris has generally steered clear of endorsement opportunities. While traditionally those have been scarce for women in cricket, with the shifting landscape, an elite few are now considered among the country's most marketable sportspeople.
Harris is a tier below the likes of Perry and Alyssa Healy in that regard but her unique character and media presence across the summer could potentially see her fill a niche role for advertisers. Instead, her instinctive wariness has won out.
"If you sell yourself, then you start losing that privacy," she says. "Commercially there's that grey area where they start to want more from you, and there's a line that I'm not willing to cross."
* * *
It has only been in the past couple of seasons that Harris believes she has fully come to understand herself as a batter.
The turning point came with the arrival of new Queensland Fire and Brisbane Heat head coach Ashley Noffke in 2019. Harris was wavering at the time. She had hit two hundreds the previous summer – one in Big Bash, one in the WNCL – to again showcase her talents ("In terms of her skill level," Beth Mooney has said, "it's pretty much unmatched in the WBBL"). The problem was, she was missing far more than she was hitting; outside of those innings that season, she reached 50 just once in 18 trips to the middle and averaged 16.
"She definitely needed to be challenged in her thought process," Noffke says. "Some of the stuff that she would often say to me, she was probably a little bit off track in terms of the game, and a little bit in her respect to life and what she really, truly believed in … and I think she really doubted everything she was doing."
Harris eyed Noffke with the same cynicism she had viewed many coaches.
"I put it on him that (the role for him) was a steppingstone, like, 'I did my time, and now I'm going over (to coach a men's team)'," she says.
"But he was probably one of the first coaches that I've had that was really like, 'I'm running it my way – this is the winning method, and this is the stats', and there was evidence and everything to back it up. It wasn't just all fluff and talk; he was actually walking the walk.
"He would come back at me, and I'd be thinking: You know what you're talking about, and the only way you know that is because you've watched the vision, or you've invested the time.
"I respected him more because when I did hit him between the eyes, he hit me straight back. So I was like, 'Alright, fine'."
Noffke remembers being a slow burn with Harris but he was encouraged to persevere because, not only did he see the upside, he came to believe she "wanted to be proven wrong".
"I think that's the essence of it," he continues. "She wanted to know there was something else, that there was more enjoyment to the game.
"And it took a level of maturity and respect for her to go away and have a think about it, process it, and then come back with a compromise of, 'OK, well I'll try – I'll dip my toe in the water for you'."
Eventually the pair began rowing in the same direction. Noffke picked holes in Harris's game and together they worked at solutions. They zeroed in on the types of deliveries that made her uncomfortable and hammered away at them "every session", turning each weakness into another scoring opportunity. It was the sort of coaching she had been craving.
"From that, I grew to understand my own game," she says. "And then I knew how I wanted to play the (uncomfortable) ball, and then the game kind of goes from there.
"Once you can hit that ball, then you figure out the tactics – when they have four fielders out, or they do this with this field, or this bowler's doing this and they're trying to get you out like this – and that's when you can counter.
"And it does come with experience; you've got to have played for a long time to know consistent trends in your game, and to figure out what works for you or not, because if you're just having a shit day, you can't throw the whole recipe book out."
Noffke agreed with Harris's assessment that she had been pigeonholed as a one-dimensional power hitter.
"Just because she has the ability and the power," he says, "doesn't mean she can't play the soft touches of the game and understand what's needed right at that point in time."
Against Tasmania in the Fire's title-winning 2020-21 WNCL campaign she scored a match-winning hundred that underlined her evolution. Assessing the situation of the run chase at 2-17, she moved to 17 from 42 balls, then worked her way through the gears, reaching 50 from 72 balls before racing to 100 from her next 21.
The following summer, Harris enjoyed her finest Big Bash campaign to date, hitting 420 runs at the top of the order, including four half-centuries, while operating at the relatively sedate strike-rate of 123. Noffke believes the past nine months – which includes her most productive series with Australia (132 runs in India from three T20 inns, SR 203) and a dominant WPL campaign (230 runs from five inns, SR 165) – have been her best yet.
"The way she was solving problems out in the middle during the WPL, it was awesome to see," says the 46-year-old, who was alongside her at UP Warriorz as an assistant coach.
"I remember doing some sessions with her on ramping … and then just the self-confidence to go: I'm going to do this, and I'm going to do it in an important part of the game, then to just walk out in the WPL and do it … I can hit over there, I can put one over my shoulder and manipulate the field, and then I'm going to play normal from there and hold my ground … to win games like that is pretty special. There aren't a lot of players in the women's game that do that."
For both Australia and UP Warriorz, Harris has been utilised in the middle order, where her power hitting, combined with a cool head and years of experience, has allowed her to flourish. With Noffke, she has revised her training schedule to incorporate the problem-solving that is required in the role. She insists she is "a much better cricketer now than the last time I was in the Aussie squad" but she also says other factors within the set-up – from having a say in some decisions, to greater independence and a more relaxed approach to elements of tour life – have been more conducive to success.
"And the major difference now is they do these 'role clarity meetings', where they legitimately go, 'This is what we want you to do'," she says. "It's refreshing. I just said to 'Flegs' and Shell (Nitschke, head coach) and 'Motty' (Matthew Mott, former head coach), 'As long as there's no contradictory messages – if I hole out and you're like, Nah, you probably should have hit that along the ground, but we needed 14 an over, well, you can't have it both ways'.
"But there's been none of that. And with my bowling, they're just like, 'You'll bowl offies to a leftie, or if there's a good match-up, you might be in the game, but you know that you're behind Ash (Gardner), you're behind 'Kingy' (Alana King) and every other spinner in the team, and I'm like, 'I don't mind – I'll take whatever opportunity I get'."
There was something else Noffke noticed in India, too. It was off the field, and involved a sizeable shift in the way Harris approached the unknown compared to how she might have when he first came across her back in 2019.
"It was a new environment with lots of Indians, lots of English, lots of different backgrounds," he says. "She was just amazing with the young Indians – she opened up and let them in straightaway, which she wouldn't have done three or four years ago; she would have kept to herself, and locked herself away.
"But I think allowing that personal connection and vulnerability builds a level of trust in herself and her decision-making and her own judgment, and you then get a better sense of self.
"I'm no psychologist by any means, but I certainly see the evolution of Gracie through that process."
* * *
Harris will be 30 in September, at which point she will be entering a fourteenth Australian summer. When the idea of a 20-plus season career is raised, she greets it with enthusiasm. Increasingly, opportunities have been popping up beyond these shores and she is enthused by the prospect of more.
"Franchise cricket is appealing to me," she says. "But I don't play it solely for money; I want to win, and I want to play in a team that I enjoy – that's what I like best about the game."
With her spin bowling and athletic fielding complementing her batting, Harris is a tantalising T20 package. She is leaner and fitter and stronger than she has ever been, though she has gotten herself into that sort of shape with not only an eye to playing on for as long as she fancies, but for life beyond cricket.
"As I've gotten older, or more mature, I've actually valued my health more than just being able to play the game," she says. "I'm a very independent person, so I want to be able to do stuff for myself – just like general mobility – for instance, you want to be able to tie your own shoelaces.
"And they now pay you a lot of money to be an athlete. So it's a pretty small sacrifice that you have to make to eat healthy, and to be the fittest you can be. And then, if it (helps) your game, I'm going to like that more, and I'm going to enjoy it even more because I'll be able to do it for longer."
For now, as she prepares for the white-ball legs of the women's Ashes, she is trying not to look that far down the road. She has a couple of goals she would like to tick off in the game – six sixes in an over, and a Baggy Green – though she knows at this point the former is far more likely than the latter.
In the meantime, she is simply trying to enjoy a chapter of her career she never thought would be written.
"In the (recent CA) contract meeting I was like, 'When I get dropped, I'll just go back to doing this', and Shell goes, 'Or when you retire Grace?' And I'm like, 'OK'," she laughs.
"Whatever opportunity I get at the moment, I'm just trying to make the most of it, and just have the most amount of fun, because I'm closer to retiring than I am to the start of my career.
"So this part of my life is basically just about enjoying cricket. I think you know now as much as you're going to know – I mean, how much more about cricket could I possibly learn at this point?"
When she returns from a long stint in the UK, which will also include The Hundred, she will retreat to Ipswich and begin the task of painting her newly renovated home. She knows her time there this summer – between Heat, Fire and Australia commitments – will likely be fleeting. She hopes to find a window though, however small, where she can sit on her new deck, look out across the vast green valley beyond her back fence, and revel in her own private space in the world.
"I'm happy with how it's going at the moment," she says. "I can't predict what happens in the future. Maybe I'll do commentary, maybe I'll have to branch out, or maybe I retire and just drift back into society.
"But there's still a lot of things that people don't know about me, and I like that – I've designed it that way."
Like the perfect magic trick.
CommBank Ashes Tour of the UK 2023
Australia lead the multi-format series 4-0
Test: Australia won by 89 runs
First T20I: July 1 at Edgbaston, Birmingham, 6.35pm (3.35am July 2 AEST)
Second T20I: July 5 at The Oval, London, 6.35pm (3.35am July 6 AEST)
Third T20I: July 8 at Lord’s, London, 6.35pm (3.35am July 9 AEST)
First ODI: July 12 at The County Ground, Bristol, 1pm (10pm AEST)
Second ODI: July 16 at The Rose Bowl, Southampton, 11am (7pm AEST)
Third ODI: July 18 at The County Ground, Taunton, 1pm (10pm AEST)
Australia squad: Alyssa Healy (c), Tahlia McGrath (vc), Darcie Brown, Ashleigh Gardner, Kim Garth, Grace Harris, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Phoebe Litchfield, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham
England Test squad: Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver-Brunt (vc), Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Bell, Kate Cross, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Lauren Filer, Danielle Gibson, Amy Jones, Emma Lamb, Issy Wong, Danielle Wyatt