Atherton slams Harmison recall

Published: Wednesday, July 30, 2008, 8:01 [IST]
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Former England captain Michael Atherton has blasted the England selectors for recalling fast bowler Stephen Harmison for the third Test against South Africa, saying it sends a "terrible message".

Durham quick Harmison has been recalled to liven up an attack that couldn't prevent South Africa piling up over 500 at Headingley, where the Proteas won the second Test by 10 wickets to go 1-0 up in the four-match series after a draw at Lord's.

Harmison's return to a 13-man squad, together with that of fit-again left-arm pace bowler Ryan Sidebottom, comes after shock Headingley debutant Darren Pattinson, born in Grimsby but brought up in Australia, and longtime back-up paceman Chris Tremlett were both omitted.

In the process Harmison has leapfrogged fellow 2005 Ashes winning bowlers Matthew Hoggard and Simon Jones, who remain in international exile.

Harmison was dropped after the first Test defeat away to New Zealand in March and the latter part of his England career was characterised by repeated criticisms of his performance and attitude.

And for all his fine form for Durham this season, former opening batsman Atherton is not convinced Harmison has answered those criticisms.

Atherton, writing in The Times on Monday, said of Harmison: "His selection is as uninspiring as his recent record in international cricket and his attitude and, surely, it sends a terrible message: that it does not matter if, time and again, you do not so much cherish and nurture your talent as abuse it; and that it does not matter if, time and again, you turn up unprepared, there will always be another chance.

"Nor does his record against South Africa (18 wickets at 59.55) or his record at Edgbaston (five wickets at 68.20) inspire confidence.

"It is a puzzling selection, too, because it is difficult to see how he will make the final XI, unless Ryan Sidebottom suffers a recurrence of his back stiffness or he has suddenly leapfrogged Sidebottom, James Anderson or Andrew Flintoff in the pecking order."

Atherton added: "Excuse the cynicism, but what Harmison's selection does is allow the selection panel to vaporise Chris Tremlett and Darren Pattinson with the minimum of fuss."

The third Test starts on Wednesday at Edgbaston, where a victory for the Proteas would see South Africa win a Test series in England for the first time since 1995.

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