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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Harmison can ignite English summer
By Oliver Brett

West Indies will field a weak batting line-up in the four-match Test series that starts at Lord's on 17 May.

Brian Lara is retired and Marlon Samuels out of favour, while one of the few experienced batsmen, Ramnaresh Sarwan, will be full of the cares of captaincy.

Steve Harmison's finest hour - Sabina Park, March 2004
Steve Harmison's finest hour - Sabina Park, March 2004

It will certainly be a big opportunity for the mercurial Steve Harmison to terrorise an opposition line-up again.

Inevitably, should he shine in the series, more cynical observers will have said it should have happened in Brisbane last November.

Under the cruel Queensland sun, with the gaze of what seemed like the entire world fixed on the first ball of the Ashes, Harmison infamously picked out Andrew Flintoff at second slip with his opening salvo.

That horrible series, though, was merely the most recent chapter of a difficult period in the career of the 28-year-old son of Ashington, and passionate Newcastle fan.

His last 20 Tests have produced just one match-winning performance, at Old Trafford in the summer of 2006.

Tormented by wides and batsmen prepared to counter-attack him at every opportunity, the Harmison aura has slipped.

And his often insipid performances have been symptomatic of an England team so far short of their Ashes-winning form.

Once formidable in one-day internationals, Harmison has walked away from that format completely.

Harmison's Test record: 189 wickets from 50 Tests at 30.53
Against West Indies: 40 wickets from 8 Tests at 21.10

But perhaps fortified by his long break from cricket, his early season returns this term for Durham have been as encouraging as anyone could possibly hope for.

After three County Championship matches, he is the leading wicket-taker with 24 scalps at an average of 14.37, he is clearly a happier soul than he was in Australia.

Lancashire's Stuart Law, a recent opponent said: "Steve Harmison was seriously good. Brad Hodge came off and said '****, he was quick!' That's a good sign coming from someone like him. I love Harmy. I think the best is still to come from him.


"He gave away one-day cricket [for England] too quickly and if I was [coach] Peter Moores I'd be seeing if he would change his mind. If he bowls like he did on Monday, nobody will lay a bat on him in any form of cricket."

"Harmy" has suffered homesickness ever since the late 2004-05 tour of South Africa, but ironically it was on an overseas tour that he came of age.

At Sabina Park in Jamaica barely three years ago, a venue beloved of West Indian pacemen of old, he produced one of the deadliest spells seen in a Test match.

The pitch was not the worst to bat on, but Harmison made maximum use of whatever it did offer - some pace and some inconsistent bounce - to return 7-12 in the second innings.

Steve Harmison
Harmison has had success for Durham already this season

Skittled for 47, West Indies were crushed by 10 wickets and have since proved easy pickings for England.

Harmison was the first really "mean" fast bowler England had unearthed since Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain had rebuilt the side in 1999.

Having seemed a self-effacing individual in his early interviews, the man himself quietly relished in the role of England's number one bowler.

And the eye-catching performances continued.

He took 6-61 in the first innings in Trinidad, six more wickets in Barbados, and helping demolish New Zealand and West Indies - again - in the English summer that followed.

It had been a remarkable few months, and Harmison was officially the number one bowler in world cricket.

Perhaps most importantly, he had galvanised a pace-bowling unit that would be the key to winning the Ashes the following season.

Sadly, the glory days are long since over.

Matthew Hoggard has done his best to keep the ship afloat, but Andrew Flintoff was side-tracked by captaincy in Australia, and Simon Jones has suffered long-term injuries.

It all changes now. There is a fresh feeling about the squad with the appointment of Moores, and the focus is on the future.

It would be nice to see a new fast bowler pencilled in as a possible Ashes or World Cup winner after this summer.

And a big summer for Harmison might inspire someone like Stuart Broad or Charlie Shreck to make a big impression.

England storm to Test win
14 Mar 04 |  England


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