Harmison aims to hit peak in time for Ashes

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The Independent Online

As the Champions Trophy was unplugged from its life support machine yesterday there was a temptation in some quarters to pass it fit for purpose. This was entirely the wrong diagnosis.

The patient remains in intensive care, perked up by a couple of uplifting matches in which the result was as significant as the performances. It is now up to England and Australia to continue the rehabilitation tomorrow (with due respect to New Zealand and Sri Lanka who might cajole pulses into racing in Mumbai today).

The match, as if it needed any more hype, appears to have taken on a further significance because both teams, having lost their first games, need to win it to retain any realistic aspirations of reaching the semi-finals.

The collective intent of England's players is still to play down the relevance of tomorrow's Group A match to the Ashes, which begin in Brisbane in 33 days. Different country, different competition, different players appears to be the rationale.

"Anybody can beat anybody in a one-day match on a given day," England's strike bowler Stephen Harmison said. "We know what Australia's strengths and weaknesses are."

It would be helpful for England if Harmison could locate the pitch on which the match is being played and bowl the ball there. He came clean yesterday in conceding he had started badly against India on Sunday. His first over yielded 20 runs which in a low-scoring contest was fatal.

"I tried too hard," he said. "I was too eager and I let myself down because I've got more experience than some of the others and tried to bowl too fast before I got in to any sort of rhythm. But I came back well and I generally feel I'm not far off."

But the Champions Trophy is not what Harmison's winter is constructed round. He is planning to peak for the Ashes.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't and I'm not going to sit here and talk bullshit that we haven't got one eye on the Ashes because we have, everybody has. But we're here to do a job and if it needed any more spice, whoever loses on Saturday goes home. Yes, we've got one eye on 23 November but the best thing we can do is to win this competition to go forward."

There remains the bizarre prospect of England and Australia, who will be watched by record crowds this winter, performing in front of a virtually empty stadium tomorrow. Apart from the other factors, tomorrow is Diwali, the biggest of all Hindu festivals and the equivalent to Christmas in Christian countries.

Meanwhile, the tribunal to decide the fate of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, the Pakistan fast bowlers who were sent home from the Champions Trophy on Monday after testing positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone, will open next week.

* West Indies opener Chris Gayle has been fined 30 per cent of his match fee for breaching the code of conduct during the Champions Trophy victory over Australia. Gayle, who was involved in verbal clashes with Australia batsman Michael Clarke, was found guilty of failing to "conduct play within the spirit of the game". Meanwhile, Northamptonshire have signed Yorkshire spinner Richard Dawson, Richard Logan, Lancashire's Andrew Crook and Richard Browning.