Harmison bounces back into contention

Durham 178 & 26-1 Yorkshire 313 <i>(Durham trail by 109 runs)</i>: Durham paceman stakes his claim for England recall as Yorkshire's top order falters
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The Independent Online

The message from Steve Harmison to the England selectors could hardly have been spelled out more clearly as he thundered down the hill at the Kirkstall Lane end here yesterday, obliging Yorkshire for a while to fight hard for their survival.

It is that they should cast aside any lingering doubts over the reliability of the most potent weapon in their armoury, set aside the notion – however laudable – of consistent selection, look at the form book and invite Harmison to resume his Test career at Lord's on Thursday.

Yorkshire finished the day on top as Andrew Gale, with five hours of diligent batsmanship, anchored a comeback that eventually took them into a sizeable lead, but not before Harmison, with 5 for 60, had completed his third five-wicket haul in as many Championship matches.

With James Whitaker, one of England's selection panel, on site, Harmison took his tally of first-class wickets for the season to 42. Significantly, given that he thrives on confidence, 33 of those have come in his last five matches. Accommodating him should not be difficult. Dispensing with one of the spinners from the failed Cardiff experiment is the obvious route.

Alternatively, Stuart Broad would not be harmed by a period away from the line of fire. Two changes would make room too for Harmison's Durham team-mate, Graham Onions, whose retention in Wales suggests he had been earmarked for the Second Test in any event.

Harmison's performance for England Lions at Worcester, notable for his bouncing out Phillip Hughes twice, dangled temptation in front of the selectors. They resisted then but will find it harder now.

His most damaging assault yesterday came in the first half-hour, in which he proved, as so many times before, that when a 6ft 4in bowler can deliver a cricket ball at 95mph, even a slow pitch need not neutralise his venom.

Eager to press his claims, Harmison made life difficult for the batsmen from the outset as Joe Sayers and Anthony McGrath sought to build on the foundations laid on Friday evening. He struck with only his fifth delivery. McGrath, defending, edged to third slip after the ball perhaps bounced a little more than he expected.

The next 14 balls brought two more wickets as Yorkshire, 64 for 1 overnight, found themselves 77 for 4. Sayers, who had kept the ball down skilfully at first, was unlucky to be caught at forward short leg from a firmly hit stroke but Adam Lyth got what he deserved for swishing airily outside off stump.

Harmison's opening spell brought him 3 for 7 in seven overs but that was not the end of Yorkshire's problems. Jonathan Bairstow became their fourth casualty of the day, driving loosely to gully. But an aggressive counter- attack from Tim Bresnan began a rally, unchecked even when Harmison came back on just before lunch. Bresnan's partnership with Gale was worth 54 by the eighth over of the afternoon.

A fuller delivery from Harmison, compounded by an excellent catch taken low and one-handed by Coetzer at third slip, stopped him in his tracks. But there had been a swing of momentum and though Harmison celebrated his five when Rana Naved-ul-Hasan flicked the first delivery with the new ball carelessly to mid-wicket, the initiative slipped away from Durham.

Rana, who hoisted Ian Blackwell over long-on for six during a marathon bowl from the left-arm spinner, added 22, Adil Rashid an attractive 32 and Ajmal Shahzad, at No 10, a career-best unbeaten 41. Gale, having held things together magnificently at first, allowed himself to loosen his arms and had hit nine boundaries before Blackwell hurried one through to bowl him for 84 but by then Yorkshire had claimed three batting bonus points.