Harmison's graft is key to magical spell

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England's cricketers realised they had witnessed something special as they sat with their feet dangling in the hotel pool. But supping on a richly deserved beer, they were struggling to come to terms with what had just taken place. England had won a remarkable Test match by 10 wickets and not one of them could really explain how.

England's cricketers realised they had witnessed something special as they sat with their feet dangling in the hotel pool. But supping on a richly deserved beer, they were struggling to come to terms with what had just taken place. England had won a remarkable Test match by 10 wickets and not one of them could really explain how.

The conversation turned to Stephen Harmison. This was understandable. After all, it was his breathtaking spell of 7 for 12 on Sunday morning which had taken them to victory.

When speaking about him they sounded as though they were talking about some sort of deity. Each admitted that the performance of the 25-year-old fast bowler had numbed them. They all felt it was a privilege to be out there while a team-mate put on such an awesome display.

Everyone who has followed the England side since Harmison made his Test debut against India in 2002 has known what he is capable of. And those who have faced him in the nets, or played against Durham, can vouch for what a frightening opponent he is. But few truly believed he could get all parts of his game together at once and wreak such havoc in a Test match against this quality of opposition.

Batting against Harmison is a challenge no batsman looks forward to. Ask Ashley Giles. He showed me the bump on his arm from when the lanky paceman hit him in the nets at Adelaide in 2002-03. An x-ray revealed the wrist was broken and Giles returned home early from England's tour of Australia.

Harmison has every asset a young fast bowler could want. He is tall, fast and has the ability to extract steep bounce from a benign surface. Because of this, one has to question why it has taken until now for England to see the best of him.

Responsibility for this has to be shared. Harmison, like the majority of fast bowlers, can be a stroppy so-and-so who will not do as he is told. This can frustrate coaches, but bowlers like to talk among their own. Captains ­ who are invariably batsmen ­ like to think they know what makes a bowler tick but most of them don't have a clue.

This is why bringing Troy Cooley, the England bowling coach, to the Caribbean has been an astute decision. Duncan Fletcher is an excellent coach but he has at times struggled with the fast bowlers. His strengths lie in coaching batsmen.

During this tour, and also while England prepared in the United Kingdom, Cooley has not only helped Harmison with the technical side of his game. He has also offered a sympathetic ear when things have not gone to plan. And this is something Harmison needs. He may look a fearsome sight with a ball in his hand but he is actually a shy, quiet and gentle man off the field.

It is only his height that makes him stand out in a crowd, and getting him to open up and talk is a difficult task. This humility comes from being brought up in a small mining village in County Durham. Harmison comes from, and remains part of, a close family.

It has been his reluctance to leave his family which has caused many of his problems and has moulded people's views. As a youngster he suffered from homesickness and it was this which once caused him to pull out of an England A tour.

This, unfortunately, has led to his desire to play for England being questioned. These doubts have not only come from those on the outside. Before Christmas, when Harmison returned home early from Bangladesh with back trouble and then failed to make the tour of Sri Lanka, several of England's senior players stated ­ without wishing to be quoted ­ their disappointment with his attitude.

While Harmison was in the UK having treatment, reports filtered back to the England team that he was not doing as much as he should to get himself fit. This did not go down very well with his colleagues and there was even talk of him being left out of this tour.

While England were in Sri Lanka, Harmison was invited to train with his beloved Newcastle United. This agreement carried on after Christmas. Training with his heroes was something he enjoyed and he is now gaining reward for this hard work.

Harmison has a natural action. His ambling run-up and loose-limbed delivery is reminiscent of Caribbean bowlers. Bowling fast has come so easy to Harmison but this has worked against him. As he developed he never had to train hard to bowl fast and this attitude probably remained with him during his early years as a professional.

All this, however, appears to have changed this winter. Michael Vaughan, his captain, Cooley and Fletcher have talked about a much improved attitude and have stated this as one of the main reasons for his rapid rise into a world-class performer.

Fletcher feels the training regime has given him the confidence to put everything into his bowling without worrying about breaking down. This is true. But Harmison's Man-of-the-Match performance in Dhaka in October would also have given him an enormous amount of confidence. The opposition may only have been Bangladesh but every player needs to prove to himself that he can perform on the biggest stage, and this Test fulfilled that role for Harmison.

One of those by the pool was Paul Collingwood, his Durham team-mate. He said: "I just hope he wakes up in the morning, not just as Steve Harmison but realising he is something special."

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