"Why in heaven's name has he bowled it there? Can't he pitch the damn thing on a good length six times in a row? How come we never get any freebies like this when we walk out to bat?" How many times must the batsmen in England's slip cordon have asked each other these questions while Australia amassed 804 runs during the opening three and a bit days of the first Ashes Test?
Bowlers enjoy taking the high ground, but they are no better than batsmen. "Look at him throwing his wicket away again. Nobody ever gives me their wicket. When was the last time Ricky Ponting slogged one down deep square-leg's throat, eh?" These may not be the most constructive of comments to come out of a dressing room, but they are the sort of utterances that emerge from a team which has had the sort of week England have.
England may have been bowled out for 157 in their first innings, but it is the bowling that will be causing Duncan Fletcher, the coach, greatest concern as he attempts to prepare his side for Adelaide on Friday. If England are to retain the Ashes they now need to win at least one of the four remaining Test matches, something that is well beyond them should they continue to bowl as they did in Brisbane.
For one who is a life member of the bowlers' union it was hard not to feel sorry for England's attack as it was flogged all around the Gabba. Yes, they are professional bowlers playing at the highest level, and yes, what was sent down in the first Test was not good enough. An international bowler should not bowl a wide in Test cricket, let alone hit second slip. But bowlers are not robots. They make mistakes. I am not making excuses for England's performance in Brisbane, which was clearly inadequate, but every bowler, even the great Glenn McGrath, has spells where he is not quite sure where the little red projectile will go.
When this happens it is not fun. It is a nightmare, especially against a team like Australia whose ruthless batsmen pounce when they see fear and uncertainty in the eye of an opponent. As you make your way to the stumps you can sense Matthew Hayden or Ponting moving dauntlessly towards you, looking to take you on and destroy you.
Bowlers constantly say that cricket is a batsman's game because the laws generally seem to be amended to make their lives easier. Batsmen, meanwhile, believe cricket is a bowler's game because they only get one chance while the leather-flingers get 120 balls a day to get things right.
Both arguments are true but there can be few more humiliating experiences in sport than that of a bowler who is having a horrendous day. A batsman may be dismissed in an unfortunate manner, but if he is out of form the torture rarely lasts long.
For a bowler it is a slow and painful death. Stephen Harmison could not go and hide in the changing room after bowling the first ball of the Test to second slip, even though he probably wanted to. He had to stay out there in the scorching sun for another 155 overs hoping things would get better. With each wayward ball the pressure on him increased and confidence oozed out of his body. It would have been a relief to him when the umpire called "over".
Sadly, it gets no easier between overs. Invariably, bowlers field at fine leg, and there are normally a few wags on the boundary who are more than happy to remind you that you are having a shocker. There is no place to hide.
Harmison and James Anderson, the most wayward and expensive of England's bowlers, will have copped plenty of flak from the crowd. It is unpleasant stuff and there were occasions when I wanted to leap over the advertising boards and give someone a good thump. But you don't. You can't. You stand there almost in tears with your cap pulled down tight over your eyes feeling totally dejected and inadequate.
It is in these moments that the desire to continue with the job is tested most. It would be easy to throw it all away and retreat to the relatively comfortable existence that is county cricket. And no member of the current England side is more likely to choose this option than Harmison, who would rather be with his family in Ashington, County Durham, enjoying a couple of pints at a local working man's club on a Saturday lunchtime before going to St James' Park and watching Newcastle draw 0-0 at home to Charlton. It may not be what England require in their moment of need, but it would be wrong to say that he has got his priorities totally wrong.
There has been no shortage of advice coming Harmison's way. Ian Botham, Michael Holding and Dennis Lillee, three of the finest bowlers cricket has produced, seem only too keen to help out the ailing fast bowler. I agree with their judgements, but do you really think that Kevin Shine, the England bowling coach, has not given Harmison the same instructions? Of course he has. Shine will have told Harmison to stay upright, to hold his action and to not fall away at the moment of release. He will have told Anderson not to go searching for magic balls, advising him to watch the way McGrath bowls and to try to do the same. Steve Bull, the team psychologist, will have attempted to fill their heads with positive thoughts, too.
But all these ideas and intentions disappear once you walk out in the middle. All of a sudden you are on your own. It is you against a bloke with a baggy green cap on. There is only going to be one winner, but who will it be? An underprepared Harmison froze on Thursday morning and it will take some time for him to get over the experience. The technical adjustments will only work if the mind is strong.
Australia did not enforce the follow-on in Brisbane because they wanted to have another go at England's bowlers and, in particular, Harmison. Ponting knows that Harmison could win the Ashes for England, and at the moment he has him exactly where he wants him.Reuse content