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Justin Langer column

Justin Langer
By Justin Langer
Former Australia batsman and Somerset captain

In many ways Steve Harmison is something of an enigma.

From a batsman's point of view he is never one you necessarily like to see in the opposition's line-up.

Steve Harmison
Harmison was left out by England for the first Test against West Indies

His pace and bounce and willingness to bowl bouncers ensures that even on the days you score runs against him, you can guarantee you will be left with your fair share of bruises, or badges of honour, as we like to describe them in the engine-room at the top of the order.

Last week I had the best seat in the house for judging where the demoted quick is, in terms of form and fitness.

Like everyone else I had heard about his perceived lack of form and enthusiasm during the winter, but what I actually witnessed was a long way away from the whispers.

Once again he had me ducking and diving and leaving the wicket battered and bruised but satisfied to have scored runs against one of England's finest.

Just like the first time I faced him for Middlesex against Durham, 'Harmy' bounded in and bowled at a consistent pace with his trademark steep bounce and aggression.

Off the field Steve Harmison is hardly your archetypal fast bowler. He is quietly spoken and good fun to have a drink and a laugh with.

He doesn't seem to take things too seriously which adds to his enigmatic character on the field. With a cricket ball in his hand he seems intent on bowling as many short balls as he can to help intimidate you in the contest. At his best he is as tough as any bowler in the international game.

The criticism usually pointed at the Durham and England quick is that he can be hot and cold - either brilliant or poor with little middle ground for day-to-day consistency.

Because of this, you can sympathise with his captains or the selectors for losing patience with him but it is my opinion that the upside of Harmison in the team outweighs the downside.

When England won back the Ashes in 2005, Harmison's first spell at Lord's led his team and set the scene for what was one of England's greatest-ever series triumphs.

It is my opinion that the upside of Harmison in the team outweighs the downside

Throughout the series he and his best mate Andrew Flintoff led the way with raw hostility and aggression. His presence and contribution was outstanding.

On the flipside of 2005, who will forget the big man's first ball of the 2007 series?

Being on the receiving end of that delivery I was as stunned as anyone to see the ball fly to second slip; not off the edge of my bat but rather straight from his hand.

That single delivery seemed to epitomize the attitude of the England camp and ultimately the result of the series was far less spectacular than that of 2005.

The point is that a bowler like Harmison can have such an impact a positive or negative impact on his team that he will always be a tough one to discuss at the selection table.

Obviously I have no idea of what goes on behind the doors of the England changing room but from a purely bowling option Steve Harmison would always be in my first XI for England.

Graham Onions and Steve Harmison
Onions (l) has been encouraged by Durham team-mate Harmison (r)

The likes of Graham Onions, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and James Anderson all deserve their shot for their country but whether they have the ability to be such an impact player remains to be seen.

Onions has raw, skiddy pace and plenty of endurance but only time will tell whether he can take over 200 Test wickets like his Durham team-mate has.

Leading into the Ashes, these two Tests against the West Indies might give the selectors a snapshot of the future, but I would be amazed if Steve Harmison's name isn't pencilled into the teamsheet for the first Test in Cardiff in a few months time.

From Taunton,
JL



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