Durham take issue with ECB decision to rest Harmison

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The Independent Online

Durham captain Dale Benkenstein has questioned England's handling of Steve Harmison after being told the fast bowler could not play in their top-of-the-table match against Championship leaders Nottinghamshire this week.

Harmison, who made a successful England comeback in the victory over South Africa at The Oval, had indicated to Benkenstein before the Test began that he wanted to continue to play a full part in second-placed Durham's quest for the title, even if it meant going straight from international action into four days of intense domestic cricket.

But England coach Peter Moores determined that Harmison – still a contracted England player – should be rested this week, even though he will play no part in the forthcoming one-day series against the tourists.

Last night, Durham were awaiting a reply from the England and Wales Cricket Board to their request for a change of mind after the first day's play against Nottinghamshire was lost to rain, affording the bowler an extra day's recovery time.

But the Durham skipper said he could not understand why Harmison needed rest, in any event. "Just before day four at The Oval, we got a call from the ECB to say Stephen would not be available because with the effort he had put in he was knackered," Benkenstein said. "If he has said he wanted to rest, obviously that's fine. After day four, when they had come off the field, he said he was pretty exhausted.

"But I can't understand what he's been rested for – because he's not in the one-day set-up, and the next Test match is in about five months' time. He knows now what is best for him and surely England should know by now that the only way he gets up to his standards, bowling wise, is to bowl.

"In the past he's been picked when he hasn't been bowling and in his own mind he probably knows he's not ready and that puts massive pressure on himself. Then he hasn't put in the performances he should have.

"This year we have not been able to get the ball out of his hands. You could see at The Oval that he's really confident now in the way he's bowling and therefore he's been able to just go and enjoy himself with nothing really to prove. That's the way he should be playing all the time.

"From our own point of view we have a good chance to win the Championship and he has been a major factor in getting us to this position. So we would obviously like him to be available if he is fit and ready to go."

Moores said on Monday, after England had completed their six-wicket victory, that his job was "to decide in the short term what was best for Steve."

"I spoke to Steve on Sunday after we came off the field and he was emotionally and physically drained," Moores said. "He'd put a lot into the Test match, he'd waited a long time for his comeback game and he did a fantastic job.

"His first job now is to have a bit of a break, recharge the batteries and then go back to Durham."

It is understood, however, that the ECB wished to be seen to be fair to Nottinghamshire, for whom England players Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad are unavailable, and Durham officials admitted they were surprised at such a consideration being made.

"England have every right to make a decision to rest centrally contracted players," Durham chief executive David Harker said. "But we expect that decision to be based entirely on what is good for the individual player and good for England."

* Marcus Trescothick became the first batsman to score 1,000 runs in the First Division of the County Championship this season, making the 44 he needed on the opening day against Surrey at Taunton yesterday.