Harmison turns raw pace into potent weapon for England

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The Independent Online

Although it was Matthew Hoggard who did most to wrap up New Zealand's second innings quickly yesterday morning, it is his partner, Stephen Harmison, who is taking world cricket by storm.

Although it was Matthew Hoggard who did most to wrap up New Zealand's second innings quickly yesterday morning, it is his partner, Stephen Harmison, who is taking world cricket by storm.

The 23-year-old 6ft 4in fast bowler is, said the New Zealand captain, Stephen Fleming, almost wincing, "Brett Lee with more height. In these conditions [an uneven pitch] he's able, with his pace and height, to get that much more, opening up opportunities for England's other bowlers".

The England captain, Michael Vaughan, added: "It's not just good luck that's turned Harmy into the No 2 bowler in the world. He's put in a lot of hard work to get this far and he's just one of the players who have made my job easy. I'm lucky to be captain of this team, captain of a bunch of lads who are working hard and also happen to have a lot of talent."

Harmison's advance has been astonishing. When he first appeared at Durham he was a gawky, lanky, erratic young man with raw pace.

That was the attraction for county and country selectors, but there have been times when it seemed he would never find the necessary control. But since being left out of the England team here, against South Africa last year, Harmison has captured 51 wickets in eight Test matches at an average of 16.86, world-class figures by any calculation.

Three times now he has taken five wickets in an innings, the crowning achievement being his 7 for 12 against the West Indies in Jamaica. If he still appears erratic at times, as in yesterday morning's opening over, he is nevertheless conceding at a rate of only two and a half runs an over.

England, through Harmison and especially Vaughan, are looking handsome in their success, wearing the confident air of winners, victorious in five of their last six Test matches, eight of their last 12.

It is as if most of the components of a world championship team are coming together. For wicketkeepers England have not been as affluent since the days of Alan Knott and Bob Taylor. For behind Geraint Jones and Chris Read are Essex's Jamie Foster and Glamorgan's Mark Wallace.

James Anderson, the fast-bowling sensation of a year ago, is now waiting to get into this team. The loss of the experienced Nasser Hussain has been negated by the arrival of Andrew Strauss and the knocking on the selectors' door of Robert Key and Ian Bell.

True, England still lack a match-winning spinner but only Don Bradman, in 1948, had everything.

Naturally the subject of Australia came up in the post-match press conference. Vaughan is not yet ready to talk about them but he did say: "If we can progress as much in the next six months as we have done in the last six months then it will be an interesting meeting.

"We have become a hard side to beat, and what is important is the mental spirit of the side," Vaughan added. "We blend well. This is a good dressing-room and we have shown, as in this match, that given a challenge such as having to overtake 400 on a wicket of uncertain character, that we can buckle down and do it."

Fleming was also impressed by England's performance. "We were soundly beaten again by a better side," he said. "I was very happy to get 400, and what we needed was a [first innings] lead, but we didn't get it due to bowling that lacked penetration and sound batting. It's back to the drawing board. We were well and truly outplayed."

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