Harmison roars in to give 'brilliant' captain Pietersen perfect Test start

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The Independent Online

Kevin Pietersen's first action as England captain was to lose the toss, but thereafter almost everything the new man tried bore fruit as England enjoyed a dominant opening day of the fourth and final Test here yesterday.

South Africa, who have already won the series, were hurried out for 194 and by the close England had made a steady start, reaching 49 for the loss of Andrew Strauss.

"I thought that as a team today we were fantastic," said Stephen Harmison, who made a telling return to Test cricket. "I thought Kevin did a brilliant job as captain. I don't think he got challenged that much, because a lot of things he did went right for him."

James Anderson took three wickets, including his 100th in Tests, while Harmison bowled well for his two and Monty Panesar and the recalled Stuart Broad also took two apiece. Harmison admitted to being a little anxious on his return to the side. "Obviously I was a little nervous coming back in," said the Durham fast bowler, "but I got a text message off Kevin [Pietersen] last night saying 'Welcome back' and 'Good luck'. And I just said it feels like Christmas Eve to me. I am so excited. I was just pleased to be back. I got momentum from that first over.

"I was actually better than I thought I was going to be," he added. "In fact it was excitement more than nerves I think."

His tally of Test wickets now stands at 214 after striking twice on the hard Oval pitch yesterday. He could, and should, have had more, in particular with the very first ball of the day which flew high off Graeme Smith's bat and straight to Alastair Cook in the gully, who dropped it.

"That first ball, it just flew at Alastair Cook, but I never get too upset about dropped catches," Harmison said. "It is just one of those things. It would have been nice, but to be honest it was not a great first ball. It was a short and wide long hop which he sort of smacked straight to gully. But it was pleasing to get the first over out of the way."

It was certainly eventful. His fifth ball ricocheted off an inside edge and caught Smith in the most tender of places and had the South African captain doubled up, then flat on his back waiting for the pain to subside.

His final ball flew through to wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose and smacked him in the mouth, drawing blood. "It was an interesting first over," added Harmison wryly.

But he did finally get his man when Smith was tempted into hooking and the top edge was taken by Anderson in the deep. Harmison explained: "I am not knocking county cricket but when you get a top, top player like Graeme Smith out in front of 18,000 people or whatever, the atmosphere, the buzz and everything, that is what I have missed. I missed playing for England. I missed wearing the three lions. I love playing for my country."

Harmison has come a long way since his last Test appearance for England against New Zealand in Hamilton back in March, when he took 1 for 121 in the match. That performance was deemed to be not good enough and he and Matthew Hoggard were dropped.

"I was right to be dropped," he admitted. "I have had a break and I think I am better than I was and hopefully this is the start of a better 12 months ahead than the 12 months I have just had."

The 29-year-old is definitely in the side on merit. He arrived in south London as the leading wicket-taker, with 43, in the First Division of the County Championship and has shown consistency and venom for Durham.

The 6ft 4in bowler took a hat-trick against Sussex at Hove in May and in the next match against Hampshire took six wickets in one innings. He has been instrumental in helping Durham into second in the table, breathing down Nottinghamshire's neck, with a game in hand.

Yesterday he was back and he was happy to let the South African batsmen – and the rest of the cricket world – know this.