Harmison in right place to succeed

Fast bowler hoping to revive career at the scene of his finest moment for England

There might, just might, have been a tear in Stephen Harmison's eye yesterday as England's chartered plane touched down. He was coming back to the town where it all started for him and for once he could think not of how it went wrong but of where once it was so right.

If Ashington, Northumberland, as he has made clear so often, did not mean so much to him, Kingston, Jamaica might be the place of his dreams. In one Sunday morning at Sabina Park almost five years ago he went from a fast bowler with potential to one of the most feared.

The start of the day was fairly prosaic. The match was evenly balanced. Both sides were finding their range. West Indies had started their second innings the night before and four more overs in the morning yielded five more runs. The shift was sudden.

All at once, Harmison's express pace and steep bounce became an irresistible combination. In some cases, they were not keen to resist, they just wanted to get the hell out of it. In 54 balls, Harmison took seven wickets for eight runs, in all 7 for 12 from 12.3 overs and West Indies were 47 all out. Minutes later England had won the first Test by 10 wickets and there was a sense not only that the series was already beyond recall but that England had a team again. So it proved.

The figures were as dramatic as the performance. It was stunning and it transformed Harmison. In the next few months he became the world's No 1 bowler. Nobody wanted to face him, not many made much of it when they did.

And now he is back there. The First Test between England and the West Indies begins on Wednesday, with the second and final warm-up game having petered out into a draw on Saturday with Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood gaining valuable time in the middle but Owais Shah missing out.

For Harmison, however, something, has been lost on the journey from Sabina Park and back again. It may have crossed Harmison's mind that he can find it again here. He has become England's most exasperating bowler. He concedes regularly that he annoys himself, that he cannot understand why he can be so innocuously wayward. The feelings derive almost entirely from that day, 14 March in 2004. If he could do that once, why cannot he always bowl like that? Or at least not like a drain?

"I have no idea, I can't put my finger on it," imparting that if he could he would. "It does exasperate me but I try my nuts off. I feel now I'm getting more consistency but maybe I'm not as incisive. Before I would throw one down here, one down there and then put one in the slot and that would get the wicket. Maybe I've got to go back to the old days and throw it around everywhere."

More theories are offered about Harmison's bowling than about global warming. Maybe he is too decent a bloke to be a fast bowler. He now knows he has to bowl and bowl to be the bowler he should be.

He is a worrier, an Ashington lad who frets when away. He is fretting mildly at present about his pace – that is half the weapon – because there was not much of it in St Kitts last week. "The odd doubt does come into your mind but hopefully it's just that wicket and not me getting old."

Less than a year ago, it was possible to believe that Harmison's career was done. He had turned up in New Zealand short of bowling and fitness and his performance in the Hamilton Test was hapless. He was aware that he had let himself and the team down.

It took strength of character that some suspected he did not possess to get himself back into the England side. It was stirring to see him return and to watch him propel Durham towards an improbable County Championship title with renewed vigour.

Then came India late in the year. Harmy seemed to go barmy again. India won a Test they should have lost and on the final, spine-tingling day when Sachin Tendulkar made a century whose every stroke was imbued with emotion Harmison was barely entrusted to bowl. Exasperation did not do it justice.

"I knew I wasn't fit enough in India," he said. Harmison's canny candour has the habit of being disarming. "I was fit but I wasn't fit enough and I've got to work hard. I had a long summer, went from Antigua to India and I would say I was tired but that's not an excuse. I was off for five and a half weeks and I spent a lot of time in the gym which my wife can vouch for. I lost a bit of weight, turned a lot of body fat into muscle which I'm happy with."

Harmison is desperate still to play for England, though he is running out of time to have the career his gifts might have granted him.

His state of mind when it all goes horribly wrong can only be guessed at, though he made a game stab of saying that he had fond memories of all his Tests. Sabina Park 2004 (7 for 12) might have been special but so too was Brisbane 2006 (1 for 123 and 0 for 54, the first ball of the series propelled unerringly into the hands of second slip).

"It hasn't been straightforward but hopefully it will keep me in a job for a few more years yet," he said. So it should, but his preparation for every series from here on has to be precise. He said: "I feel I'm in a decent place at the moment." For Harmison the fast bowler there can be none more decent that Kingston.

ICC indecision: The 2006 Oval Test

In an act of belated decisiveness the International Cricket Council yesterday finally agreed that England had indeed won the Test against Pakistan at The Oval in 2006. The match was dramatically abandoned when Pakistan refused to return to the field after being accused of ball-tampering. They were deemed to have forfeited the game, a fact which was later overturned by the ICC who declared the match a draw. The decision was overturned yesterday and England have now won the series 3-0. Pakistan, of course, may yet appeal again.

Stephen Brenkley

Stephen Harmison has played 59 Tests for England since making his debut in a draw with India in August 2002. The Northumberland-born fast bowler has recorded one '10-for', against the West Indies in 2004, and eight '5-for's'.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future