Selectors should stop 'knocking Harmison down'

Yorkshire 178 & 421-9 Durham 313 & 98-4
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The Independent Online

Having persuaded the England selectors to seize the moment and summon him for national service, Steve Harmison failed to grasp his opportunity to impress further here yesterday. After taking 33 first-class wickets in little more than a month in building his case for a recall, he returned his first victimless innings in six matches.

Not that he could be blamed entirely. He would have had one success had wicketkeeper Phil Mustard not spilled a chance offered by Adam Lyth, while Durham's conservative tactics in setting Yorkshire an unenticing target hardly encouraged risky strokes. Moreover, a pitch that had been slow from the outset had turned near to lifeless.

All the same, after national selector Geoff Miller had turned up to watch him, 11 largely uninspiring overs would not have been what Harmison had in mind. Instead, he mooched around the outfield as Liam Plunkett and spinner Ian Blackwell took the only wickets.

Not that any of that dissuaded Dale Benkenstein, who has watched Harmison's career from close quarters for five years – largely as his county captain – from choosing the moment to deliver a damning verdict on England's omission of his fast bowler from the first Test and their handling of him in general.

"Steve is the most feared bowler in England," Benkenstein said. "You ask any batsman round the circuit – and I think half the Australian side would say the same thing. Yet England keep knocking him down and then asking him to come back and perform again. I don't understand why they don't look after him. It should be their job to keep him going and keep him positive rather than keep knocking him down.

"I'm glad he is a bit closer to playing because he is confident and bowling well but it is my feeling that he should have played at Cardiff anyway. He is far better than any of the bowlers who they had there.

"England go about things quite strangely, they get caught up with too much theory and so many things that go on are not cricket-related. You want guys who are going to win matches and Steve has done it before."

He might have won this one, it could be argued, had Benkenstein – back in temporary charge in place of his successor, Will Smith – given Yorkshire a less forbidding target.

Instead, after Plunkett (65) and Mustard (85) had combined in a county record partnership of 147 for the eighth wicket, he declared after lunch, inviting the home side to score 287 in 59 overs, which they never pursued with much vigour.