Collingwood faces fight with Harmison for England recall
On Saturday, during Twenty20 Finals Day at The Rose Bowl, Paul Collingwood and Stephen Harmison were competing for the greater good of Durham, attempting to earn their beloved county a crack at the biggest paydays in the history of domestic cricket. Over the next two days both will be vying to impress the England captain, Michael Vaughan, and the selectors, and earn a recall for the third Test against South Africa.
Collingwood and Harmison were both named in England's 13-man squad for Birmingham, spending yesterday relaxing together at the christening of Harmison's fourth child, Charlie, but it appears only one of them will play. Who makes the final XI will depend on the nature of the Edgbaston pitch and the strategies England intend to employ. Ryan Sidebottom has overcome the back injury that ruled him out at Leeds and is set to play. Comments from the England hierarchy concerning the well-being of Stuart Broad suggest that the 22-year-old will not, leaving the captain and selectors with one simple but tough decision – do we pick six batsmen or five bowlers?
Collingwood was dropped for the second Test to make way for a fifth bowler, but two unconvincing batting displays from England during the 10-wicket mauling inflicted by South Africa could well change the selectors' approach this week. Vaughan seems keen to have his close, reliable and trusted friend back; suggesting Collingwood's omission on the first morning of the Test had a destabilising affect on his team.
"I worried about what this meant for me when I was left out of Headingley and it was without doubt the biggest disappointment of my career," Collingwood said. "The only thing that comes close to it was when I was left out of the second Test in Pakistan [in 2005] and I worried whether I would ever make it as a Test player. Thankfully, then I got back in when Straussy [Andrew Strauss] went home for the birth of his child and now I've got the chance to get back straight away now.
"It's nice to be involved immediately again but my priority now is to make the final XI. After all that's happened this year I just want to get things back on track now. It's been a very difficult season for me but hopefully it will be a season of two halves and the better half starts now. I just want this to be the spark, the catalyst, whatever word you want to choose, to get me going again. It's been the worse year of my career but once you have got over the hurt you look at it and realise that hope is just around the corner.
"I think you could see from my face when I was told I was out what it meant to me but to be honest I'm glad I was so hurt because it proved to me that I still have the passion and want to play for England as much as ever. I'd been in the team for 30 odd Tests and it was hard to get my head round that I wasn't in the team anymore.
"I don't know if I'm competing with Steve Harmison for a place but I'm as delighted for him that he's back as I am for myself. The key thing for Harmy is that he's as hungry as ever to play for England, the ambition is really there after all he's been through. He could have settled for a quieter life with Durham, but he really wants to play for England, like me, and every time I have been back to Durham people have said to me 'you wouldn't believe how fast Harmy is bowling'. I think he's benefited from a break but I hope my break is restricted to one game and I'm back in the team for Wednesday."
Harmison has been drafted in to England's squad to add firepower to an attack that, bar the first innings of the first Test at Lord's, has failed to ruffle South Africa's disciplined if unspectacular batting line-up. Harmison deserves his recall, having taken 75 competitive wickets for Durham this summer, but his selection is not in the horses for courses mould of Darren Pattinson at Headingley.
Harmison's record at Edgbaston highlights this. The lanky speedster has taken just five Test wickets in three Tests at the venue, with his best bowling being 2 for 62 against Australia in 2005. Thankfully, his memories of the ground are not all bad. One of Harmison's wickets – Michael Kasprowicz – provided England with an unforgettable one-run victory over Australia in 2005.
An on-form Harmison can destabilise any opponent's foundations, but the sight of him bowling now always brings back memories of the first ball of the 2006-07 Ashes that flew straight to Andrew Flintoff at second slip. Harmison is determined to make sure that moment does not provide cricket fans with their abiding memory of his career.
"I'm not naïve – I know if I play the spotlight will be on me," Harmison said. "I know people will be watching my every move and waiting with bated breath when I run up to bowl my first ball. I know that it is going to be tough and I know that I am going to be nervous. I know that after what happened at Headingley last week, the pressure will be on England and on me and the level of expectation will be high. And I know I have a point to prove, that I can still bowl at the highest level and take wickets for my country against a fine batting side.
"But I would rather be going to Edgbaston, putting myself to the test and dealing with all those issues, than not. I'd rather be playing in front of 20,000 than 2,000 at Trent Bridge. With all due respect to my Durham team-mates, I'd rather be playing for England."
Colleagues and friends: And now Test rivals
v South Africa: Tests 9, Wickets 18. Average: 59.56. Best bowling: 4 for 33.
At Edgbaston: Tests 3, Wickets 5. Average: 68.20. Best bowling: 2 for 62.
First-class matches: 5, Wickets 11. Average: 53.54. Best bowling: 3 for 74.
List A (limited over) matches: 3, wickets 6. Average: 20.00. Best bowling: 3 for 29.
v South Africa: Tests 1, Innings 1, Runs 7. Average: 7.00.
At Edgbaston: Tests 1, Innings 2, Runs 22. Average: 11.00. Highest score: 19.
First-class matches: 3, runs 281. Average: 56.20. Highest score: 153.
List A (limited over) matches: 11, runs 312. Average: 44.57. Highest score: 80 not out.
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