My record in danger from a 'complete' fast bowler

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The Independent Online

Six years ago, I arrived here needing two wickets to break John Snow's record. The former fast bowler had taken 27 wickets on England's 1967-68 tour of the West Indies. Before the remarkable events of the past month, this was the last occasion on which England had won a Test series here.

In 1998, the best we could hope for was a drawn series but I appeared destined to pass Snow. Clayton Lambert, Philo Wallace and Brian Lara made me wait a long time for my first victim but once Shivnarine Chanderpaul had been trapped lbw, I felt that number 28 was inevitable.

The record-breaking wicket never came. Philip Tufnell dropped Carl Hooper at mid-on and he went on to score an unbeaten century. The West Indies amassed 500 for 7 and my last memory was of Curtly Ambrose slogging me twice over mid-wicket for six.

Before this tour began no one gave the bowlers a chance, and in a series containing only four Test matches I felt my record was safe. Little did I know that some lanky paceman from Durham would choose this tour as the moment to announce himself as one of the outstanding bowlers in the world.

Stephen Harmison started poorly on the first morning in Jamaica. He picked up the early wicket of Chris Gayle but his opening spell was too short and too wide. This failed to surprise many of the English contingent in the press box who had watched Harmison bowl like this on too many occasions.

This all changed in the West Indies second innings. In one of the greatest spells of fast bowling ever seen from an Englishman the 25-year-old took 7 for 12 as the West Indies were bowled out for 47. Since then Harmison's progress has been astounding. From a raw, wayward speedster we have seen him develop into one of the most daunting propositions in the game. Further wickets came in Trinidad and Barbados and he now needs only six to break the record jointly held by Snow and myself.

"To break the record would be the icing on the cake," Harmison said. "I have always believed I could perform in Test cricket but I never dreamt things would work out as they have. When I arrived here my first objective was to get into the team and then to stay in it. The main thing on my mind is that England win this series 4-0 but it would be nice to break the record.

"I very rarely set myself targets but it would be nice to come back here in four or five years' time and see my name at the top of the list," he added, before laughing at me. "I would be pleased with the record but it is not something that is going to drive me on. I will not be going to Vaughany [Michael Vaughan, the England captain] and saying 'Here, give me the ball, I have got a record to break'. What would be really satisfying would be coming back here in four or five years' time and hearing the locals say, 'Oh no, not him again'."

Although his heroics have destroyed their side, Harmison will receive recognition and respect from the locals every time he visits the Caribbean. But unlike in other parts of the world, where autographs are constantly sought, people here show their appreciation by saying your surname as you walk past them in the street.

Harmison has gained success through combining the best of Snow and myself. Snow was short compared to the current breed of pacemen but he was fast and skilful. And it is the combination of this, along with the bounce and accuracy I offered, which has transformed Harmison into the third best bowler in the world.

I look at him with envy. I had a number of things going for me as a bowler but he has everything a fast bowler would want. What I would have given for his pace. To be able to intimidate a batsman in such a way would have knocked about five runs off my career average of 27. This is the difference between being a good and a great bowler.

Before this tour, Harmison was viewed as a bowler with potential. But through hard work and the help of Troy Cooley, the England bowling coach, he has become a skilful bowler rather than a "thick quick" who ignorantly bangs the ball in the dirt as hard as he can.

Cooley has even got him swinging the ball. "I started swinging the ball in Bangladesh and it has continued here," Harmison said. "Troy has been trying to get me to bring the ball back in to the West Indian left-handers because he realised they had a weakness against this ball. He told me not to worry about losing a yard of pace whilst trying to do it because my normal ball, which goes across them, will then be three or four miles an hour quicker and it may surprise them."

And nowhere was this new skill more evident than in the dismissal of Gayle in Barbados. The aggressive left-hander was trying to hit Harmison for a fourth consecutive boundary when a superb in-swinger nipped through his booming drive and knocked his off-stump out of the ground. "This was the plan against Gayle and it was brilliant when it came off. My 7 for 12 is obviously the highlight but this wicket was the most enjoyable.

"The challenge now is to retain this rich vein of form. Everything is going well for me at the minute and hopefully I can keep it going but if it doesn't, I can use what's happened here to fall back on.

"What has happened will not change me," Harmison added. "I will be disappointed with myself if it does. I am not a big one for gloating or being somebody I am not when things have gone well. The spotlight is something I will have to try and get used to but it is something I will distance myself from. Big photo shoots and things like that are not for me."

STEPHEN HARMISON SETTING THE PACE

Name: Stephen James Harmison

Born: 23 October 1978, Ashington, Northumberland

Teams: Durham, England

Bowling Style: Right-arm fast

Batting Style: Right-hander

Test debut: v India, Trent Bridge 2002

Test Series v West Indies

BOWLING FIGURES

First Test (Kingston)

First innings: 2 for 61

Second innings: 7 for 12

Second Test (Port of Spain)

First innings: 6 for 61

Second innings: 1 for 40

Third Test (Kensington Oval)

First innings: 3 for 42

Second innings: 3 for 34

OVERALL CARIBBEAN RECORD

O M R W Avge

102.5 35 250 22 22.72

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