Harmison walks in giant footsteps in the quest for all-round success

The England pace bowler's not-so-little brother is a key player for the nation's Under-19s. Paul Newman reports
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At Old Trafford in front of a capacity crowd on Monday it was 26-year-old Steve who bowled the final over of the momentous third Test against Australia, whose last-wicket pair held out to deny England victory.

Two days later, in front of a handful of spectators at Headingley, 19-year-old Ben was also in action in an England shirt. The all-rounder was run out cheaply in the morning and was taken off after bowling three costly overs in the afternoon, but England won their Under-19 Test against Sri Lanka to complete a 3-0 victory in the series, the first clean sweep in their history.

Despite his personal disappointment on the final day, Ben has figured prominently in the summer's one-day internationals and Tests against a young Sri Lankan team who were saved from a whitewash only by the rain which put paid to the second limited-overs game.

Harmison's hard-hitting, left-handed batting is the strongest part of his game, but he is keen to develop his right-arm medium-fast bowling. After taking three wickets and making 18 not out and 15 in the one-day series, he was disappointed to be left out of the first Test.

He responded with a show of character in the second, hitting 76 runs in the first innings during more than four hours at the crease, and scoring 57 in the first innings at Headingley. But he was troubled by an ankle injury and his bowling yielded only one wicket in his two Tests. "I've done OK but I feel I could have done better," he said. "I've been a bit disappointed with my bowling. I've often come on to bowl when the ball's a bit old and I've struggled to make an impact.

"I've been playing second XI cricket at Durham this summer and I've been pretty pleased with my progress there, playing against older players. I've been batting at No 3 and I'm averaging about 70.

"My batting is the stronger part of my game at the moment, but I see my future as an all-rounder. I don't think I'd enjoy fielding very much if I didn't think I'd have a chance to bowl. I know that I've got to get stronger. I'm not strong enough yet to bowl 20 overs a day."

Andy Pick, coach of the England Under-19s, has been pleased with Harmison's progress, particularly in the light of the ankle and back injuries which have troubled him in recent times.

"I think he gets frustrated sometimes because he can't stay fully fit," Pick said. "He sometimes lacks rhythm in his bowling because he's had so many breaks during the season. When he's on song he can be a handful for any batsman. With his height he can get bounce with the ball that some of the other quick bowlers can't get.

"His height's also an advantage in his batting. It has to be a really hard, bouncy wicket for bowlers to be able to get the ball up high enough to rough him up. Against the spinners he can get 12 to 18 inches further down the pitch than some batters without leaving his crease. He's a good judge of length and he can certainly whack it."

Pick believes the flow of talent from the county academies is getting stronger with each year, while the rationalisation of the game at this level should improve the players' progress. Not so long ago four different organisations offered national caps. Now the England and Wales Cricket Board is at the top of a pyramid structure which has established a clearer career path.

The Under-19s make full use of the national academy's facilities at Loughborough. The breakthrough of graduates like Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones and Steve Harmison has given the next generation good examples to follow.

Ben's heart is set on a cricket career, particularly after seeing the achievements of his elder brother. He went to Old Trafford on Sunday to see the penultimate day of the Test; the following day was the first of the Under-19s' Headingley match, which finished in time for Ben and colleagues to watch the final two overs. "It was an amazing finish," Ben said. "I felt very sorry for everyone in the team because it was a fantastic effort. The tension was unbelievable. There was a fantastic atmosphere in the ground on the Sunday. I'd never experienced anything like it."

Has Steve offered guidance? "He's always encouraged me. I don't really ask him for advice, but the main thing he always says to me is to go out and enjoy it."

The Harmisons, whose family home in Ashington backs on to the town's cricket club, are quite a sporting family. Father Jimmy played non-League football and still plays cricket for Ashington. Brother James is a good cricketer and also plays football for Bedlington Terriers, one of the best non-League clubs in the area. The family are Newcastle United fans and at one stage Ben had thoughts of a football career.

"I was on Newcastle United's books until I was about 15," Harmison said. "I'm left-footed and my height made me useful as a defender. I played at the back, on the left, but I gave it up when I stopped enjoying it. Now cricket's the only game."

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