Harmison, England's sting in the wing

Published: Monday, September 13, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Having talent is one thing and realising it is quite another. At a time when most international cricket sides have genuine tearaways, England's prolonged search for someone, who could hurl down the red cherry with scorching pace, seems to have finally ended with the emergence of Steve Harmison if his performances in the last twelve months is anything to go by.

Of course, one can argue that the likes of, Gough, Flintoff, who have been shouldering the bowling workload of the team for the past few years admirably and have it in themselves to bend their backs and hustle the batters, Steve Harmison comes across as a bloke, who effortlessly works up searing pace as he often touches the 90 mph on the speed gun, and makes life difficult for batsman.

The tall, gangling speedster from Durham has been nothing short of a revelation for England and as few would dispute, has been instrumental in the side's amazing success graph, which has soared to new heights in recent times. For someone, who always held loads of promise, Harmison's baptism to international cricket was far from a cruise ride.

Plagued by injuries and constantly being in-and-out of the England side, his morale sagged and the quickie nearly paled into oblivion. The six-footer (he's 6 ft 5 inch to be precise) as experts would put it often had to battle with niggling injuries.

A blossoming career's wings looked set to be clipped until Harmison decided enough is enough, and seriously worked on his fitness. The 26-year-old Durham bowler had a purposeful training session with the Newcastle United, a soccer team he has been an ardent support of since he was a kid, during the winter of 2003 and his stint with his favourite side, where he rubbed shoulders with seasoned Alan Shearer and that stint paid him rich dividends.

Far from belting goals alongside Shearer during training, he strived hard on adjusting his bowling action. He consciously worked on standing upright in his delivery stride rather than falling away in his follow through and that session did a wonders to his confidence. In his next outing, he knocked the stuffing out of the crisis-riddled West Indians in their own den reaping a rich harvest of 23 wickets at an average of 14.87. His stint in the four-match Test series included a magnificent 7-12 at Jamaica, which not only left Lara's men scurrying for cover but also squirming in embarrassment.

The Caribbean odyssey over; Harmison was riding a crest, something he could have never imagined a season back when his career had hit the skids with injuries and indifferent form. He turned in another superlative performance in their next home series against New Zealand where he grabbed the Man of the Series award. Just to show that his exploits against the Windies were no flash in the pan, he dug into his reserves to dish out the best against West Indies, who set foot on England for a return series.

Harmison did struggle to get it right but soon rediscovered his touch as he took the wind out of the opponents' sail with another impressive haul of 17 wickets in the four match series. He continued his rich vein of form into the ICC Champions Trophy. He was at his parsimonious best as he snared 3-29 off his allotted ten overs to set up a big win over the turmoil-shaken Zimbabwe in their opener. One glance at the statistics would reveal the kind of run Harmison is going through. He has now taken 61 wickets in 11 Tests in 2004, an ample testimony to his growing stature as one of the feared bowlers in world cricket.

What bodes well for England is that Harmison has begun to believe in himself. It has made him such an accomplished, feared and most talked-about bowler in recent times!

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