Tag: Steve Harmison

The lollop, the leap and physics-defying bounce


Say what you like about Steve Harmison’s overall record, but he could lollop in and hit you on the elbow with the best of them. That uncanny ability to make the ball bounce considerably more than should have been physically possible brought him a bunch of wickets and England a bunch of wins, but far more importantly, it brought hope.

Fast bowlers are few and far between. English ones are rarer still. For a time, Steve Harmison was just such a thing and it was wondrous. Context is everything and that’s one of the main reasons why we named him our latest King of Cricket over at All Out Cricket. You can read all about him by clicking these words.

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.

England fast bowlers have short lives

LollopFollowing Andrew Flintoff’s Test retirement, Steve Harmison is now making rumblings about leaving the international game. He says his body couldn’t last the 18 months that would take him up to the next Ashes series. Steve Harmison is 30 years old.

Flintoff has been in hospital about once a fortnight for as long as we can remember, but Harmison’s always seemed one of the less injury-prone pacemen. Whatever your opinion on Harmison’s bowling, it’s worrying that this is all we’ll get out of him.

Of England’s other recent fast bowlers, Simon Jones appears to have played his last Test when he was 27 and Darren Gough’s retirement was overdue at 32. However injury-prone these guys have been, the odd break from cricket might have helped.

We don’t want Test cricket overrun with line and length medium-pacers. Batsmen have everything in their favour. They should at least be in real danger of having their teeth knocked out.

Steve Harmison has one day to bowl his way back

If there’s one thing England need more than anything else, it’s a fast bowler. If there’s one thing Steve Harmison isn’t at the moment, it’s a fast bowler.

The good news for Harmison is that nobody else is either, so all he really needs to address is that ‘at the moment’ part.

Steve Harmison celebrates hitting 84mphSome might say that the pitches for the recent Test series were unusually flat and that ordinarily you don’t need a fast bowler in Test cricket. We’d say the fact that the pitches were unusually flat only magnified the need for a fast bowler. Test pitches are always pretty flat.

But Harmison’s shown few signs of recovering pace and hostility over the winter, content to bowl fairly accurately at 82mph, which is hardly the point of Steve Harmison. Having run out of wrists to slap, Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have dropped him down below an injured Ryan Sidebottom and a previously untested Amjad Khan in the pecking order.

With only two Tests before the Ashes and no chance of a recall – as that would render the kick up the arse of his dropping into yet another meaningless temporary exile – it’s impossible to see a way back for the lolloping ganglatron of mental fragility.

Yet in true English fashion, we’ve overlooked the one-dayers. England are highly likely to pick the hunchbacked spindlester for these, so he’s got a chance. While he’s widely thought to be no better than competent at one-day cricket, this overlooks the fact that by far the most influential bowling of his career took place in pyjamas.

No, not in his dreams – delete that comment and write something else. We’re referring to just prior to the 2005 Ashes in Bristol. Harmison dismissed Australia’s top four (Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting and Martyn) to reduce Australia to 63-4 and then returned to clean bowl Mike Hussey, finishing with 5-33.

That, as much as the Lord’s bloodshedding that followed, scared the Aussie batsmen, who never fully recovered. Harmison should ask himself whether the Aussies are scared of him now. And he should answer honestly.

Steve Harmison batting

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again using exactly the same words, because we aren’t going to improve on this:

For Steve Harmison, every innings is like a brief fairground ride with ghosts intermittently leaping out at you, only occasionally the ghosts give you sandwiches, but sometimes the sandwiches have horrifying fillings.

There, that’s pushed Laurence Elderbrook down a notch. You know what that means?

It means we’re one step closer to the NEXT Laurence Elderbook update. Woo hoo. All aboard the fun train.

Steve Harmison takes a hat trick

A hat trick! Hat tricks are good!

Lolloping ganglatron of mental fragility, Steve Harmison, took a hat-trick against champions Sussex over the weekend. We’re more interested in his opening spell during Sussex’s first innings though, where at one point he’d taken 2-7 off 11 overs.

Moping about in county cricket in a state of permanent ill-temper will do Harmison the power of good. If he gets to the point where he not only thinks he deserves to be in the England side, but is offended by being omitted, he’ll have attained a level of confidence he hasn’t seen in years.

The Steve Harmison who we all wanted Steve Harmison to become might yet come about. Not for a while though. Everyone look away and pretend you’re not interested.

This EXCLUSIVE photograph of the aftermath of Harmison’s hat trick was sent in by 668 Neighbour of the Beast. We haven’t had an exclusive since those ‘postal covers‘ two years ago – and they were only exclusive by default. No-one else could be bothered publishing anything about them.

Steve Harmison dropped

Harmison perfecting the hangdog lookThe 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.

Steve Harmison needs to take responsibility for himself

Steve Harmison when he got it rightSteve Harmison’s playing in Test matches because he’s England’s most dynamic bowler, but there was no sign of that at Hamilton yesterday. Harmison says himself that he can’t bowl line and length, but instead sees himself as a 90mph strike bowler. It’s worrying that that’s his view as it sounds like an acceptance of low standards of accuracy.

Yesterday, however, he failed to deliver the positive element in that self-description. 90mph? Try 80. He falls away a bit towards the off-side and that affects his direction and pace. He’s struggling for confidence and he’s a slow starter to tours. England have a specialist bowling coach, but there’s enough there that Harmison, a grown man, really needs to sort it all out himself.

In Glenn McGrath‘s first Test in England at Edgbaston in 1997, he returned the uncharacteristic bowling figures of 2-107 and 0-42 as England, powered by Nasser Hussain’s double hundred and the pace bowling of Gough, Malcolm and Caddick, won by nine wickets.

McGrath thought he’d bowled a yard too short throughout that match and spent an inordinate amount of time on the outfield after everyone had left, learning to bowl fuller. He placed a marker and he bowled at it until he got the feel for bowling that length. The next Test, at Lord’s, he took 8-38 as England were bowled out for 77 in their first innings.

An analyst didn’t identify that flaw and a coach didn’t tell him to rectify it. McGrath took responsibility for it himself and that’s why he was one of the greatest bowlers of all time. He identified his flaws and he rectified them.

For all the coaches and support staff, you’re actually on your own, Steve. You have to sort your bowling out yourself. The good news is that you’re the only one who has control over you and you have total control. Bowling with accuracy isn’t a pipe dream and it can be done at pace. It can even be done in your first over in a Test match.

Harmison in the wickets

Pretty good, but he can do better still. We won’t really be satisfied until he runs through a side.

That’s what Steve Harmison’s supposed to do – the Dreamland Steve Harmison who we regularly summon up when things aren’t going England’s way. The not-at-all-real Steve Harmison who embodies English cricketing optimism.

Dreamland Steve Harmison can turn round ANY situation. Dreamland Steve Harmison wouldn’t be satisfied with a mere three wickets in an entire day. Sri Lanka would be following-on without England actually batting if Dreamland Steve Harmison had anything to say about it.

Sri Lanka v England, third Test, first day at Galle
Sri Lanka 147-4 (Mahela Jayawardene 51 not out, Steve Harmison 3-28)

England’s English bowlers

We hate it when England field a bowling attack which is heavily reliant on what you’d call the traditional English seam bowler. Hoggard, Sidebottom and Anderson are all great bowlers and if we’re honest, we’d probably have gone with that attack if we’d been in charge, but you always end up with a day where they’re being shuffled around and no-one’s taking any wickets.

He's left-handed at leastWe see and agree with the reasons for omitting Steve Harmison, but it does underline why we like him. You can’t pick a guy whose bowling line is set to ‘shuffle’, but he’s resolutely not an English seam bowler. He’s 12 feet tall and he bowls quickly. It’s not that he’s capable of bowling quickly, it’s that he just does it. It’s his natural speed. In Sri Lankan conditions the ‘effort ball’ is pretty much an impossibility. Effortless speed is the only option.

Harmison’s not really the point though. The point is that England didn’t seem to have anything different when things weren’t going their way in the field. It’s always tempting to stock the team with faithful, reliable bowlers, but there are days when all you can rely on is nothing in the wickets column.

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