Steve Harmison retires – a tribute to the lolloping ganglatron of mental fragility

Odd that it should be Simon Jones who’s last man standing from that 2005 Ashes-winning bowling attack. Ashley Giles retired so long ago we wrote about it on a different web domain, Matthew Hoggard retired last month and while we saw Andrew Flintoff in Didsbury yesterday looking fitter than he ever did as a cricketer, he called it a day back in 2010.

The 2005 Ashes

Let’s hang everything off that, because that’s what these five players will always be associated with. However, if that series was the focal point, you can best appreciate Harmison’s significance by looking at the build-up – and when we talk about the build-up, we don’t just mean the one-dayers; we mean the years of England improvement leading up to that series.

Harmison made his Test debut against India in 2002. In that match the new ball was taken by Matthew Hoggard and Dominic Cork. These were top bowlers, but they were definitely fast-medium. This was always the way with England. Darren Gough could top 90mph, but it required back-breaking effort and the ball still passed the batsman at a fairly predictable height. Harmison, however, was legitimately terrifying.

His appeal is that simple. Scary England fast bowlers are few and far between. That infamous delivery to second slip means nothing to us, because the letdowns are entirely outweighed by the fact that Harmison could take 7-12 in the Windies. If a bowler can do that, he can do anything and that idea in itself is enough to sustain a cricket fan when times are tough. It keeps you watching and hoping when you’d otherwise have given up on a match.

That last section was entitled ‘the 2005 Ashes’

Yeah, we know. Sometimes it takes a while to get where you’re going. Be patient.

Harmison was at the absolute centre of that 2005 Ashes win. Statistically, that makes no sense because he only took 17 wickets at 32, but cricket is about more than what happens right in front of your eyes on a given day.

More than any other series, that Ashes was defined by the crowd and the crowd’s impact on the players. The people in the stands didn’t know what was going to happen; they only knew what had happened. Steve Harmison was the man who gave them most hope and their hope is what fuelled all of the England players.

If you don’t believe us or your memory’s failing you, look no further than this match from June 2005. This was England’s first one-day international against Australia that summer; against an Australia team which had brushed them aside with consummate ease for as long as anyone cared to remember to be precise. And what did Harmison do?

In his first spell, he dismissed Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn and Matthew Hayden – the first three all in the same over – to reduce Australia to 63-4. He then returned to clean bowl Mike Hussey by way of an encore.

Then there was the Lord’s Test. England bowled and Harmison took five wickets in the first innings, but of far more significance was the hope imbued in a nation by his first spell. Justin Langer was hit on the arm and Hayden took one on the badge of his helmet before Ponting literally shed blood. That mattered. That really, really mattered.

Speaking of blood

Steve Harmison is a man of contrasts who the media never really got to grips with. They said he hated touring and emphasised how much he loved football, giving the impression that he was a reluctant cricketer whose heart wasn’t in it. But yet this is a man who has played on for Durham until he was omitted from the team.

One-time Durham team-mate, Shivnarine Chanderpaul actually uses Harmison as the example when he talks about commitment.

“You see young guys these days get a little hit or a niggle and they stay off the field. I’ve seen Steve Harmison bowling for Durham and then have his socks full of blood when he took them off. I’ve seen him play with a broken hand to win us the Championship.”

But at the same time, this was a man who a bowling coach once said was ‘scared’ while playing for England. It just goes to show that courage and self-doubt are not mutually exclusive.

We sometimes wonder whether Harmison’s lack of confidence stemmed from how he was selected in the first place. Duncan Fletcher was looking for height and pace and Harmison had those qualities. He may have felt like he took a shortcut into the Test team and hadn’t earned his place through hard work. Perhaps he still felt like flavour of the month even after a couple of hundred Test wickets.

Flavour of the month? It was a pretty damn good flavour. He deserves these upcoming clean sock years.

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5 Appeals

  1. He always looked like he couldn’t be bothered shaving. And that even when he did, he would have three days worth of stubble within a few hours.

  2. He was definitely rocky road. Flavour, that is.

  3. Who would have thought that the last member of those 5 bowlers still (allegedly, at least) playing would be Simon Jones?

    Okay, Harmison was unreliable 90% of the time, but around the period of that 7-12 he was fearsome. That’s what I’ll remember of him.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODk97UjWnzs

    I remember in 2005 I was backpacking around Peru, and we kept bumping into a group of Australians around the time of the Lord’s Test. It was odd to see how we were both veering up and down in emotions as the match progressed. Luckily, we didn’t see them again after we lost.

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