Harmison future remains unclear

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Steve Harmison is receiving mixed messages about his Test match future as he contemplates the possibility of another tough winter abroad.

Harmison, who will be 31 in October, is being told by his great friend Andrew Flintoff that he still has it in him to be one of England's all-time leading wicket-takers.

Yet almost simultaneously, England coach Andy Flower was yesterday acknowledging retirement may be starting to loom for the fast bowler.

The man himself, meanwhile, seems similarly unsure of his international future.

Harmison insists if the selectors still regard him as a potent attacking weapon he will answer their call.

"If people do want that, then I'll gladly go on and gladly go to South Africa and I've made provisions to go and play early and stuff like that in case they do want me," he told talkSPORT.

However, he also said: "If they are saying 'we're going to take this in another direction', then I'll gladly step aside."

Flintoff, who himself left the Test stage after a famous career which culminated in England winning the Ashes again on Sunday, believes it is up to Harmison himself whether he puts himself up there with the likes of Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Fred Trueman as one of England's most prolific pace bowlers.

"Harmy has got whatever future he decides," Flintoff said of the Durham seamer, who produced a late three-wicket burst to help England over the line in the Ashes at the Oval.

"I didn't take any wickets in the second innings, but the next best thing for me was to see Steve run in like that.

"I was urging him to get the hat-trick - because for me, it would have been the perfect way to finish.

"We have seen how good he is, and I can't believe there is any speculation over his future with regard to not picking him."

Harmison himself has yet to work out whether a tour of South Africa - and then possibly Bangladesh next spring - appeals.

Flintoff predicted: "Whatever he decides will be the right decision.

"But I would urge him to carry on.

"He could be one of our all-time leading wicket-takers. He could quite easily get 300, and go further.

"It is up to Steve. But I would love to be at a Lord's Test next year, sitting in a box with a glass of champagne, watching the big lad charge in and take a few wickets."

Whether that happens will depend not just on Harmison but also Flower.

Asked whether he knew if Harmison is available to travel this winter, the coach appeared cagey.

"Right at this moment, he is," he said.

"But obviously he's getting towards that time of his career where he's contemplating whether he's going to retire or not.

"We've spoken about it, and I hope he carries on playing."

Flower must also weigh the pros and cons of Flintoff's retirement - because of a chronic knee injury which contributed to several protracted absences previously - and the emergence of Stuart Broad as his all-round successor.

Of Flintoff, he noted: "He's been in and out of the side for a while.

"Yes, balancing the team will be a little trickier. But Broad's batting is getting better; (Graeme) Swann's scored 250 runs in the series; we've got another couple of young all-rounders starting to do well - Luke Wright and Adil Rashid.

"I think England has the resources to fill the gap."

Flintoff was set for an operation yesterday on his knee. It is hoped he will return for limited-overs internationals, but Flower is taking nothing for granted.

"One thing we have to do with Fred is see what happens with his operation and how long he is going to be out," he said.

"He could be out for a year, for all we know ... let's see what happens with his knee. Then we can make a decision."