Harmison has eye on Ashes as he targets big season

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For what seemed like the millionth time, Steve Harmison yesterday declared himself ready and willing to play for England. What Harmison is rightly always aware of on these occasions is that England have yet to find anybody to replace him.

As a tall, extremely fast bowler who is constantly putting batsmen in fear of their upper bodily parts, he remains a rarity and when he spoke at Chester-le-Street it was with the knowledge that it is precisely those attributes that may be needed in Australia this winter if the Ashes are to be retained.

"England's bowling attack this winter has been doing really well and it has been good to see young players coming through," he said. "But this is a big six months coming up for English cricket, to see if these young lads can take the England team where it wants to be. If they can, then the door is probably shut for me.

"But if they can't then there are a few senior players who can take them into the Ashes. I shall be concentrating all my efforts on playing cricket for Durham but if I take 50, 60 or 70 wickets then there could be a headache."

England have twice recalled Harmison in recent summers only to discard him again. They did so for the winter tour of South Africa despite his decisive intervention in Australia's second innings at the Oval last August when the Ashes were regained.

The selectors probably recognise that they would be foolish to overlook Harmison at his outright dangerous best, although his 226 Test wickets at 31.82 a piece suggest that this form has not always been the case.

He will be 32 by the time of the next Ashes but if his pace were to match bowling maturity he would still be a handful on Australian pitches. "They still haven't found another tall, hit-the-deck bowler and I think they'll need someone like that in Australia," Harmison said. "Steve Finn could be it and I think he has got to play early this summer."

It was cold and windy at the Riverside yesterday, but Harmison sounded as though he was ready for Perth in December where it will be hot and windy.