The graph doesn’t lie. Steve Harmison’s performances have been deteriorating for ages now. There wasn’t going to be an upturn.
Last week Allan Donald revealed that Harmison had been scared while playing for England. There have been a lot of similar stories over the last year or so and they just seemed to be getting worse.
Sportsmen have to have confidence in their ability and Harmison hasn’t got this. The support of the coaches and selectors might even have been counterproductive. You can only build someone up when you’ve got something to build on. Harmison’s far from stupid and maybe he didn’t feel he justified this faith.
Without faith in himself, well-meaning words from others will have just made him feel like a fraud. He knew when he’d bowled badly and if Allan Donald, Ottis Gibson (what’s with the extra consonants?) or Peter Moores said he was improving or somesuch, he’d have seen through them.
The only way Harmison could have felt like he belonged in that England team was if he felt like he’d earned his place – and that was the one thing he didn’t feel.
Perhaps this all harks back to his initial emergence as an international cricketer. Duncan Fletcher requested pace and chose bowlers based on that attribute over all others, hoping to refine the players in question once they were in the England team. These players, of which Harmison is the most notable, to a large extent learned their trade while playing for England. Did they ever feel that they’d earned their places?
Contrast this with players such as Mike Hussey and Phil Jaques of Australia. These are players who have overachieved in domestic cricket for many years. When finally given their opportunity, they have no doubt whatsoever that they are there on merit and they have faith in their own ability as a consequence.
We’re not saying that Harmison never deserved to be an international cricketer, because he unquestionably did, if you look back (albeit a fair way now). We’re just saying that when things stopped going his way, he questioned himself and there weren’t any answers.
We dearly hope that Harmison goes back to Durham intending to win his England place back, because if he can achieve that, he’ll know he’s earned his spot and he might be a different bowler as a consequence.
It takes time to convince people though – especially yourself. Harmison should consider himself discarded by England for good. If he comes back to make an unarguable case from there, he should feel pretty confident.