Harmison's struggles leave tourists battling to rekindle Ashes fire

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England must be relieved that the Ashes series starts in six weeks and not six days. Actually, they may wish that the first ball remained six months away to give them time to rediscover the menace that unhinged the Australians not so long ago.

Andrew Flintoff's team played poorly in their opening match of the Champions Trophy, and the scars might take time to heal. Ricky Ponting and chums will be eager to rub salt into the wounds when the sides meet at the same venue later in the week.

Little in England's performance here suggested that this team are capable of reproducing the fire needed to retain an urn so memorably and deservedly secured in 2005. The batsmen were unconvincing as they poked around and occasionally lashed out in search of a satisfactory score. The bowling was patchy. Alarmingly, the worst offender was the man supposed to provide the cutting edge Down Under.

Steve Harmison has been having problems with his action for quite some time. Plainly, the amiable northerner's struggles have left a mark. As numerous golfers could confirm, these internal collapses may start with a technical hitch but they can rapidly become a mental block that leads to panic. It is no easy thing for a man blessed with the thickest of skins to walk on to a field when his brain is in turmoil. Sensitive souls wish the ground would swallow them up. There is no hiding place in international cricket, not for a struggling bowler, not for an ailing batsman.

When a sportsman finds himself in an impasse he needs to fall back on the basics of his game as revealed in years of toil. An awful lot goes awry in the formative years and each time the player learns something about his craft. It is this knowledge that guides an experienced cricketer as he tries to put Humpty Dumpty back together. Harmison does not seem to know his game as well as he might.

Happily, Harmison's second spell was much better, and brought the encouragement of a prized scalp. Recalling him was a piece of thoughtful captaincy from Flintoff, and the lanky Durham paceman must have appreciated it. Dismissing Sachin Tendulkar must do wonders for a fellow's morale.

Further consolation could be found in the aggression shown by Sajid Mahmood and the liveliness of James Anderson as the tourists fought to the end.

England can only pray that their captain can bowl at full steam when the first Test gets under way in Brisbane next month. At present an inordinate number of the team's senior cricketers are carrying injuries of one sort or another and the side may well limp into the Ashes series.

Nor did the England batting have much to commend it. Among the willow-wielders, only James Dalrymple played gamely but his services will not be required in the Test matches. Paul Collingwood caught the eye as he placed the ball through the covers. Plainly, he has a quick mind, a large heart and a willingness to take the game to the opposition. Australia will be the making or breaking of him. Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss - the team's best players - tried to cut loose only to edge to slip.

Otherwise the batting was desultory. It was not an effort calculated to leave the Australians quaking in their boots. Yes, it was only one match, badly timed and in a far-off place. But recovery must happen swiftly or it will not happen at all. It is not wise to show these Australians any hint of vulnerability.