Harvey plays down the freak show

Gloucestershire all-rounder's yorker, slower ball and catching will stretch Northamptonshire in today's NatWest quarter-final
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The Independent Online

He may have been given the nickname "Freak", because of the phenomenal catches he takes, but "The Undertaker" would have been a more apposite sobriquet for Gloucestershire's overseas all-rounder Ian Harvey.

He may have been given the nickname "Freak", because of the phenomenal catches he takes, but "The Undertaker" would have been a more apposite sobriquet for Gloucestershire's overseas all-rounder Ian Harvey.

"He is probably the No 1 exponent in the world of the art of bowling at the death in one- day cricket," said the Gloucestershire first-team coach, John Bracewell, ashis players limbered up for today's NatWest Trophyquarter-final tie against Northamptonshire at theCounty Ground in Bristol.

Harvey does not strike one as the typical Aussie, all brash and brawn. Indeed he cut a largely anonymous figure when he eventually joined his colleagues for practice under leaden skies. The only thing that set him apart was the woolly hat he sported to keep himself warm against the unseasonal chill of temperatures in the mid-teens.

If there was any reluctance to get on with the session it was easily explained by the man's engaging honesty. "I am quite lazy on the training front," he confessed candidly. "When I know what has to be done I get on and do it, but no more than is necessary. But I have to hold up my hand and admit that I am not the most motivated person to go out and do all the training."

He refers specifically to the fitness side of things, believing that in this country so much cricket is played that it obviates the need for overdoing exercise in between matches.

But when it comes to honing his skills, that is a very different matter. Harvey is no rabbit when it comes down to perfecting the art of preventing runs towards the end of a one-day innings while simultaneously picking up wickets. He does so courtesy of yorkers and a superbly disguised slower ball. But they did not just happen. As is invariably the case with all great exponents of anything, behind the seeming ease of execution lie countless practice deliveries. "I do work on my skills," said Harvey, "especially the yorkers and the slower balls. These are the things I work on before a one- day game."

He also puts in some hard graft on his fielding. "I am not too bad in the field," he modestly acknowledged but also insisted that there is always something more to learn.

Modest or not, he has taken some astounding, impossible- looking catches - in the long and short form of the game - which have bordered on the superhuman, not to say the supernormal, hence that nickname Freak, coined by Shane Warne, his Victorian team-mate.

"I have to admit that a lot of it comes naturally," he added. "But back in Australia everyone works on their fielding either before or after training. You will always see one or two players doing that little bit extra on their fielding outside the scheduled session. That is because competition for places is so tight that you need to have that extra edge."

Harvey has grown into his role. When he first arrived in Bristol little was known about him. Who Harvey? was the question on most cricketers' lips. After Gloucestershire's Cup treble of the Benson and Hedges Super Cup and NatWest Trophy last year and this season's revamped Benson and Hedges Cup, the first question these days is: "Is Harvey playing?" followed by, "How many overs has he left?"

He has certainly made his mark on English cricket. "I think my game has improved," he said. "Playing for Gloucestershire has definitely helped me. When I went home last year I had probably the best season I have ever had for Victoria and I was lucky enough to get back into the Australia one-day squad."

Yet it was only curiosity which got him involved in cricket in the first place. "I played tennis until I was 16, then, because my three brothers played cricket, I thought I would give it a go for a year, see how it went." It took off. He began as a wicketkeeper, first for Victoria Under-17, then the Under-19s.

"When I got into the State team they asked me to give up keeping wicket and concentrate on my batting and I moved up the order to No 3 and No 4. But I got so bored in the field that I pestered them to let me have a bowl."

And the rest, as they say, is Gloucestershire cricket history. This year, as well as picking up crucial wickets and taking outstanding catches, Harvey has been making significant scores in the one-day game. Already this season there have been three half-centuries.

But the beauty of this astute signing is that he does not dominate the team performance. The other 10 are not eclipsed, not consigned to his shadow. He does what he is paid to - and more - but the others have to do their bit for the common cause as well. Gloucestershire are not a one-man team. This is no regression to the "Proctershire" days. Harvey is no Courtney Walsh behind whom the rest of the team can hide. As great as his contribution is, success depends on a team collective.

"I enjoy being part of a winning side, playing with blokes who want to succeed," he said. "Everyone's attitude is fantastic. I do not think that me being here or John Bracewell being coach is that significant. It is just that the guys have realised that they can do it. And I think we can get better.

"We know if we go out there and everyone plays to their potential then I do not think there is a side that can beat us."

Northamptonshire are about to put that to the test today. Roll up for the Freak Show and its supporting cast.