Steve Harmison has shown England how they can unsettle Boy Wonder this summer. And even if bouncing out Phil Hughes with the new ball at New Road yesterday is not enough to earn him a place in next week's first Test, few would bet against Big Steve playing a part before this summer's Ashes series is done and dusted.
There is something about Australians that either brings out the best or worst in Harmison. Four years ago, he was Grievous Bodily Harmy after hitting Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting during his opening spell at Lord's; 18 months later he was Hopelessly Wayward Harmy – almost injuring Andrew Flintoff with a first ball that went straight to second slip.
But playing for a virtual England second string yesterday the Durham fast bowler was back to something like his menacing best, despite a slow and stodgy pitch that offered little encouragement. On target, then? Just ask Hughes.
The 20-year-old left-handed opener, who made a storming start to Test cricket against South Africa this year, was hit on the side of the helmet by Harmison's first delivery. Then, having been denied the width he loves during a 28-ball innings that did not include a single boundary, the youngster had no answer to a lifter that was fended to gully via bat handle and glove.
"The only person I hadn't played with or against in this match was Hughes, so it was interesting to see how he went," Harmison said. "I feel as though I picked up early on where I wanted to bowl at him and if that has unearthed an area where England can bowl at him, then great.
"I think if you put the short ball in the right area he'll belt it. But the way he shapes up to play he's probably susceptible to the ball coming around his hip or armpit area. So he's got a week to put it right in the nets. But he's no mug, he's not got many weaknesses and England have to be wary of him."
Harmison picked up a much more fortunate second wicket when Simon Katich, having already hit two fours in the over to move within one big hit of a century, obligingly pulled a long hop to fine leg. But the 30-year-old ended a day of fluctuating fortunes by foxing Brett Lee with a perfectly disguised slow yorker and finished with 3 for 67 from 22 overs. Pretty good, considering the lack of pace in the pitch and the stickiness of the heat.
So does he now fancy his chances of bursting into the England team next week? "Probably not at Cardiff," Harmison admitted. "I would be pleasantly surprised to make it because all the talk is of playing two spinners. But If it came along I'd jump at the chance – I'd love to play, I'm desperate to play for England and I'll keep trying my hardest, like I did here.
"Maybe Lord's. If they are going to play four seamers I'd like to think so. Anyway, they've seen on TV that I want to play and they've seen that I can cause Australia problems. It's up to them whether they want to pick me."
With Harmison getting rid of Hughes and Graham Onions having Ricky Ponting taken at slip off an ambitious back-foot forcing shot, Australia were 24 for 2. Then, following a solid stand of 164 between opener Simon Katich and Mike Hussey, they lost four wickets in the space of 10 overs – including that of Marcus North, who failed for the third time in as many innings on this tour by playing on against Onions.
But thanks mainly to Hussey, who emerged from a nine-month century drought to make an unbeaten 143, Australia were able to close on a secure 337 for 8. Harmison, though, had seen enough to reach the conclusion that the Baggy Green is not being worn quite so jauntily by this collection of cricketers from Down Under.
"What I have picked up is that they are not as confident and brash as they normally are," he said. "This will be my fourth Ashes series, if I can get a game this time, and although I can't put my finger on it, they don't seem as confident as they were in three previous series. Maybe it's not having the so-called big players who have now retired, but I fancy England's chances."
Six days to go:
John Buchanan has a way with words, unfortunately it's too often his own way. The former Aussie coach claims there is "an uncomfortability" about being involved with England.Reuse content