Stephen Harmison yesterday took a huge stride towards confirming his place on England's tour of Sri Lanka when he claimed 6 for 91 for the Highveld Lions in South Africa, but the fast bowler was far from delighted with the way he bowled. The England selectors asked Harmison to play first-class cricket in South Africa to prove his fitness and form before naming him in a 16-man squad that will play three Test matches against Sri Lanka in December and his performance against the Cape Cobras ought to have helped him achieve this.
Harmison had figures of 2 for 57 on the opening day but his pace and hostility proved too much for the Cape Cobras' middle and lower order. In 13.3 overs the 29-year-old took 4 for 34. Harmison's frustration came from the fact that his 27.3 overs contained nine no-balls and 14 wides.
"The wickets weren't everything to be honest," admitted Harmison. "I was disappointed with the way it [the ball] came out. It was difficult, to be honest. I've not really played a lot outside and I must admit I did spray it a little bit.
"I bowled a lot of wides. In the last two or three years I bowled six no-balls and I bowled nine in this game, so that tells its own story. I'm a bit rusty and I'm not fully with it, so there were good things and bad things. The positives were that I got 28 overs under my belt, I fielded for 102 overs in decent heat in very, very good competitive cricket and got six wickets.
"The downside was that my action wasn't as good as I would like, but we're a month away from the first Test match and there is still a lot to work on. I'm over the injuries and I'm fit, but the one thing I'm not is bowling fit. That's a big difference that any bowler will understand. I need to get overs under my belt and hopefully these next three or four weeks will do that."
Harmison will play a further four-day match for the Highveld Lions next week and it is hard to believe the selectors will decide to leave him out of their Test squad for Sri Lanka. But if he is to push for a place in the first Test on 1 December he will have to show greater consistency and control than he has displayed over the past two days.
Mike Watkinson has been ruled out of contention to become the director of the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough after rejecting the chance to coach the England Lions during their trip to India later this month. Watkinson, the current Lancashire coach, was interviewed twice for the position but he has been told by David Collier, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, that he is no longer on the shortlist to be Performance director.
"I'm very happy to be staying at Lancashire," said Watkinson. "It's a job that I've done for six years and I'm really happy that I'm able to continue my work to help build something special. I excused myself from the India trip because I had issues at Lancashire to sort out, such as trying to find a new captain, and I just didn't think that it was appropriate despite seeing it as a great opportunity."