If it was the aim of the England selectors to rile their fastest bowler before this winter's tours to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, they appear to have succeeded. Stephen Harmison, England's likeliest match-winner on the slow, low wickets of the sub-continent, is proud to be representing his country but he is not a happy man.
The reason for Harmison's ire is that he feels the performances he has put in for England since his Test debut against India in 2002 have not been fully appreciated.
"It's been strange," Harmison said on the eve of England's inaugural Test match against Bangladesh here. "I feel as though I have been playing but nobody has really noticed it until now, when England are thinking of playing two seamers in a Test match.
"I have played in most of England's games during the last 18 months but each time the limelight has been aimed at somebody, I appear to have been pushed aside for someone else. It is only now that they are looking at me to be the man who takes charge."
The England and Wales Cricket Board's decision not to offer Harmison one of the eight central contracts that were handed out in September has added to his frustration, but this may well have been a deliberate tactic by the England management.
Towards the end of the 18-month period to which Harmison refers, in which the 24-year-old played more Test cricket for England than any other fast bowler, there was a feeling among some of the senior players that he was coasting. And by not handing him a 12-month contract they were giving him a gentle kick up the backside.
"The fact that I wasn't offered a central contract has influenced the way I feel," he said. "Even though I have played as much as I have in the last 18 months, I still feel I have yet to establish myself as an England cricketer. My aim this winter is to do just that. I want to return to England for the start of next season with 20-odd Test matches to my name and as an established Test cricketer."
Having taken 32 wickets at an average of 35 in his 11 Tests, Harmison has had a reasonable start to his Test career. But many feel that a fast bowler with so much going for him should be putting in bigger, more consistent performances. And perhaps he should. But it must not be forgotten that nine of these Tests have been played against India, Australia and South Africa, three of the strongest batting sides in the world.
Michael Vaughan is a big fan of Harmison and the England captain will use him to unsettle the diminutive Bangladesh batsmen over the next two weeks. "Steve has a huge role to play with us out here," Vaughan said. "There is not a batsman in the world who fancies the proposition of facing a tall fast bowler on a wicket that keeps low.
"The way his career has come on recently, I think he is finding his game in Test cricket," he added. "His attitude on tour has been unbelievable. He has trained as hard as anyone and bowled with real purpose on dull wickets. He looks really hungry." England's tactics may not be popular with Harmison. The next two Tests will show if they have worked.
ENGLAND (from): M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), M A Butcher (Surrey), N Hussain (Essex), G P Thorpe (Surrey), R Clarke (Surrey), C M W Read (Nottinghamshire, wkt), G J Batty (Worcestershire), A F Giles (Warwickshire), S J Harmison (Durham), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire), P D Collingwood (Durham), R L Johnson (Somerset), M J Saggers (Kent), G O Jones (Kent, wkt)
BANGLADESH (from): Khaled Mahmood (capt), Javed Omar, Rajin Saleh, Aftab Ahmed, Hannan Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahman, Habibul Bashar, Alok Kapali, Mohammad Rafique, Tapash Baisya, Khaled Mashud, Mashrafe Mortzaza, Enamul Haque jnr.
Umpires: A de Silva (SL) and Aleem Dar (Pak).Reuse content