The Realm’s England XI – 9. Steve Harmison

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We’re picking an England XI comprising the players we invested in the most.

We were watching a Sky thing the other day where Steve Harmison was reflecting on his career. At around the point that he became the number one ranked Test bowler, he went on tour to South Africa and found he couldn’t practise due to an oxygen-restrictive combination of altitude and anxiety.

Harmison seemed to generate a lot of these sorts of contradictions. He was the England cricketer who only started playing in the first place to retain a bit of fitness for the football season. Cricket wasn’t his favourite sport, yet he says he felt “10 foot tall” when he walked on the field as an England player.

Media coverage sometimes gave the impression of an almost reluctant cricketer, yet this was a man who forced himself to battle that off-field anxiety so that he could continue to play.

No less a judge than Shivnarine Chanderpaul pretty much considers him the benchmark for commitment. Reflecting on his time playing alongside Harmison in county cricket, Shiv said: “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.”

Yet none of this is really why he’s in this team.

Harmison made his Test debut against India in 2002. In that match the new ball was taken by Matthew Hoggard and Dominic Cork.

That’s why Harmison is in this team: England produce plenty of good fast-medium bowlers, but very few who are genuinely scary.

Steve Harmison could lollop in and hit you on the elbow with the best of them. On a good day, he was like Andy Caddick and Darren Gough’s bastard offspring.

The off days were almost irrelevant. It was the possibilities that he brought to the team that mattered and also the hope that stemmed from that.

He took England from a world of Wasims, Waqars, Donalds and Ambroses to one where they were the ones who had the scary fast bowler.

When people look back on the 2005 Ashes these days, they only ever talk about the climax. And when we say the climax, we’re talking about from halfway through the second Test at Edgbaston until right near the finish of the fifth Test at the Oval – maybe even more than that.

Because the story of the 2005 Ashes is far more than the five Test matches. It stretches back years and even within that one summer, the limited overs matches were crucial.

A case in point: in the first one-day international the two sides played against each other in 2005, Steve Harmison’s first spell brought the wickets of Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn and Matthew Hayden. He came back on a bit later to clean up Mike Hussey.

In that moment, he demonstrated that these Australians weren’t gods. It seems so strange now, but that truly was something that everybody in England needed to learn.

Fast bowlers are few and far between. English ones are rarer still. For a time, this lolloping ganglatron of mental fragility was just such a thing and it was wondrous.


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    1. Monday Tuesday. Fashionably late.

      But feel free to visit many pages on this website tomorrow and Sunday anyway.

  1. This, and reading about England’s mega-squads has got me reflecting on big England seamers, in particular their absence.. Although it has probably obvious for ages to those of you paying attention, but Steve Finn’s international career is over. That deserves a proper requiem. I thought he was going to be a great, rather that a “he had his moments”.

    Tobias Skelton Roland-Jones has also had his day. Four tests. 17 wickets at 20. Destined to be one of Richard Osman’s pointless answers or Andy Zaltzman’s statistical meanderings.

    I’m still wondering what happened to Graham Onions.

    1. I think Onions may have suffered from being too similar to Jimmy Anderson. Though some of my favourite moments from last year were listening to the BBC online commentary of Jimmy and Bunny, combined age of 72, opening the bowling for Lancashire. Lovely stuff.

    2. So it’s (with apologies to Kermode and Mayo) Noby Roland-Jones for England now….

    3. Skelton is an excellent middle name. Cricketers seem to do unusually well for those, mind. Did they steal the good ones off the rest of us sorry lot?

    1. We watched this and a lot of other Harmison highlights while we were writing this and something struck us. When you watch a bowler’s best moments, you typically see almost none of the bowler. It’s very weird.

      ‘Watch this bowling spell,’ you say, and then all it is is a bunch of batsmen hopping around in slow motion.

    1. He did in fact bat there 12 times, with an average of exactly 14 and his highest Test score of 49 not out.

      Matthew Hoggard usually went in ahead of him because of “blockers before sloggers” wisdom but Harmison wasn’t a bad slogger.

    2. This feels like more than good enough an excuse to dredge up this, on Harmy’s batting:

      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.

      1. Terrible oversight on our part to fail to include a link to that. Thank you for correcting this.

      2. Personally I would hate to have written something like that. How would I write anything as good again? I’d find it unbearable.

  2. I witnessed that test debut of his, at Trent Bridge in 2002. We were full of excitement about seeing him, as there had been so much talk about him in the build up and none of us had seen him play before.

    Days one and two were frustrating days in theat test, with some poor weather around which meant that we only got the equivalent of one full day’s play for our two days at Trent Bridge.

    Still, it was worth sticking out the second day to witness the great man’s first test wicket – fittingly that of Ajit Agarkar – another KC site favourite.

    Harmison got another wicket in his next over – that of Parthiv Patel, also on debut, who looked about 12 at the time and apparently needed his mum’s permission to keep wicket to the spinners without a helmet.

    There was a third debutant in that match – a certain Rob Key. Frustratingly, the toss and the weather deprived us of witnessing the mighty Key bat in that match, despite us being there for days one and two.

  3. Watching the BBC ‘Cricket Classics’ programme on the 1995 England v West Indies Old Trafford Test, the umpire (who an internet search reveals to be Cyril Mitchley) appears to be doing what I can only describe as a Nazi salute with a long preamble as his signal for 4.

    Does anyone recall this being a ‘thing’? It’s marginally ‘before my time’

      1. That’s the one.
        We have to hope any resemblance to famous fascist gestures was unintentional.

    1. Another insight from 25 years ago- Dominic Cork appears to have been the proto-Stokes in being referred to by commentators as ‘making things happen’ (even before completing the infamous ‘champagne’ hat trick which I remember vociferously lobbying for inclusion as a Great Bowling Spell on a previous version of this website, to no avail).

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