England turn to refreshed Harmison

Tourists ask revitalised spearhead for injection of pace to swing another thrilling series
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The Independent Online

All kinds of snappy theories are proffered about how to win one-day cricket matches. England will resort to a traditionally effective remedy today in an attempt to swing the balance in a desperately close series: raw pace.

It is old-fashioned, it is uncomplicated, but it might just work in putting daylight between the tourists and South Africa. Nothing else tried so far - from fancy changes in the batting order to tricky fielding positions - has managed to separate the sides. The score is 1-1 after three matches, with one match tied.

Thus England will summon Stephen Harmison for one final fling of the winter tour. The intention is that his speed will give England a wicket or two with the new ball and then supply a decisive advantage with something similar in mid-innings.

Harmison, who had a disappointing Test series, has yet to play in any of the limited-overs matches this winter. He missed the meaningless sojourn in Zimbabwe, a niggling calf injury precluded his selection in the first two matches here, and he was overlooked for the game in Port Elizabeth on Friday night, which ended in narrow defeat.

He was positively glowing about his prospective return yesterday, the travails of the Test series seemingly behind him. "We need somebody who can bowl at 85 to 90mph," he said. "If you look around the world at teams who have been successful, Shoaib Akhtar comes in and bowls between the 30th and 40th over to try to get wickets, and Brett Lee was unbelievable the other day in Australia. That's what we've possibly missed, somebody who could come on in the middle and nip out a Smith or a Gibbs yesterday."

The partnership between Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs took the third match away from England, and it was obvious that a cutting edge might have helped. Harmison virtually dismissed the fact he took only nine wickets in the Tests against South Africa at 73 each.

"I enjoy the one-day element of the game because people have got to come at me," he said. "In the Test matches I feel as though I got found out a little bit, my length was a bit sit-up, an easy leave. Now it's different. If I bowl those lengths and they want to leave me, then that's fine, I'll go for 35 off 10. But they've got to come at me to score runs and that's why I could be in the game a bit more."

It was refreshing to hear the enduringly candid Harmison talking with such optimism. And why not? His last 12 one-day matches have reaped 22 wickets, one every 29 balls, a record marginally second only to Lee. But when he strained a calf two weeks ago, it was widely assumed that he might go home after the Test series. He conceded that if Andrew Flintoff, his friend and the other genuinely quick bowler in the team, had stayed, he might indeed be at home in Ashington by now. But somebody with pace had to stay.

"I think everybody knows by now how much I miss home," said Harmison. "I'd have been home in the second week if you'd offered me the chance." There is a mild suspicion that the management deliberately kept Harmison in South Africa because they were unwilling to allow him to fly home when he wanted to go. If so, the strategy appears to have worked, not least because he is fit to play.

However, they might have played him on Friday, and in failing to they missed a trick. It might be fundamentally old-fashioned to whistle up pace to do the job; the rotation of bowlers is essentially modern. England seem to talk about it without putting it into proper practice.

It did not need a physiologist to tell them that Matthew Hoggard was likely to be weary after his endeavours in the Test series and in two one-day matches - for which he had not originally planned - afterwards. He could, possibly should, have been left out on Friday night.

Rotation demands forward thinking, the courage of convictions and at least some fortune with injuries, but England have not yet grasped the concept. They seem to rotate bowlers because they must, not because they can.

Harmison's inclusion apart, there is a school of thought which says England should choose James Anderson today. He was clearly out of form on recent appearances, with the ball being sprayed everywhere, but Newlands was the scene of his greatest triumph, when he took 4 for 29 in a World Cup match against Pakistan. How right the world was that night. Perhaps his return to form might be triggered by the fond memories.

The jury is still out on Geraint Jones as a one-day opening batsman and, more importantly, it has yet to reach a conclusive verdict on his wicketkeeping. Jones has been lively in two successive innings without going on. In the exciting tie on Wednesday he took the last ball excellently, standing up to Kabir Ali when he might easily have conceded a losing bye. On Friday he fumbled a throw which should have led to Smith's run-out.

Smith deserved the break. The South African captain's maiden one-day century helped to secure only the second win in 15 games for his team. He has been beset by indifferent form and shambolic selection, but now he has set up a potentially riveting week. Four matches will be played in eight days. South Africa to win, but a 3-3 draw with Harmison firing is distinctly possible.

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