Harmison targets high veldt harmony

When Stephen Harmison pulled his weary body out of bed yesterday morning and drew back the curtains in his hotel room the vision in front of him just about summed up his tour of South Africa. For five days the England fast bowler had toiled manfully under a hot African sun for little reward, yet on the morning he had chosen to take his young family to the top of Table Mountain the weather had changed and Cape Town lay grey and damp under a sheet of low cloud.

When Stephen Harmison pulled his weary body out of bed yesterday morning and drew back the curtains in his hotel room the vision in front of him just about summed up his tour of South Africa. For five days the England fast bowler had toiled manfully under a hot African sun for little reward, yet on the morning he had chosen to take his young family to the top of Table Mountain the weather had changed and Cape Town lay grey and damp under a sheet of low cloud.

The cable car ride was cancelled but in an effort to amuse his troops, and take his mind off England's 196-run defeat to South Africa, Harmison attempted to organise a trip to Robben Island. But once again he had no luck. The England's supporters who had been cheering him on at Newlands had pipped him and the ferries were fully booked.

There are many England cricketers who, when placed in a similar position, would not have taken no for an answer. In a desperate attempt to jump the queue they would have asked to speak to someone in authority, dropped a few names and generally flexed their muscles.

But Harmison, 26, is not that type of character. He does not expect or ask for favours whether it be on or off a cricket field and he was just looking forward to spending some time with his wife and three children.

"My family have been in South Africa for 15 days and I have not seen much of them," said Harmison. "We have played 10 days of Test cricket and spent two days at practice, so it will be nice to spend some time with them."

England's players have been given two days off after playing three Test matches in an exhausting three-week period. Some members of the 16-man squad have used this break as an opportunity to visit the wineland area of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek with their families, whilst others have remained in Cape Town. But the team will travel as a group to Johannesburg on Sunday, where they will begin their preparations for the fourth Test which begins on 13 January.

South Africa will enter this match with their confidence high after the emphatic victory here, and if England are to grab back the initiative one feels that they will need Harmison to rediscover the form which made him the leading bowler in the world during 2004.

Harmison has had a miserable tour of South Africa to date. After taking 61 wickets in 11 Test matches against West Indies and New Zealand, everybody was expecting England's spearhead to make short work of Graeme Smith's side. But the rhythm and control which made him such a formidable opponent have temporarily disappeared and it has been the South African batsman - in particular Jacques Kallis - who have come out on top.

"At the moment things aren't happening for me," said Harmison. "It's disappointing but it it is not something I am too worried about. It has not happened through a lack of effort. I have been working as hard as I did last year, and the ball is coming out of my hand at the same pace as before. But I am now bowling the odd four ball and this is releasing the pressure."

It is no coincidence that England have stuttered whilst Harmison has struggled. The lanky fast bowler has been the most influential figure in Vaughan's side since he took 7 for 12 against the West Indies in Jamaica in March. Harmison has taken seven wickets in the first three Test matches in South Africa, but he has conceded 432 runs in the process.

And the pressure on him to perform in the last two Test matches will only increase should Andrew Flintoff fail to recover from the side strain he picked up in the third Test.

Attempting to find the reasons why Harmison has returned to the wild and wayward bowler he was before 2004 is a puzzle England are currently unable to solve. Harmison's loss of form could be down to a lack of proper bowling before the tour, or the way he is being used by Vaughan, but his chances of regaining it will not be helped by the departure of Troy Cooley, England's fast bowling coach, who is returning to the United Kingdom to work with the England A side before they leave on their tour of Sri Lanka.

But it is too early to write Harmison off. The pitches on the high veldt are the quickest in South Africa and their may still be time for him to play a decisive role in this series.

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