Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, 2nd day November 24, 2006

The Harmison question



'It's fair to say Steve's not been at his best' - Andrew Flintoff on Steve Harmison © Getty Images
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Steve Harmison? England appeared lost for answers on the second day at the Gabba, after their misfiring spearhead had been treated to a second consecutive day of public chastisement. After 12 insipid overs on the opening day of the series, Harmison sent down 18 more today, finishing with the demoralising figures of 1 for 123 as Australia rattled along to a vast 9 for 602.

"It's fair to say Steve's not been at his best," said Andrew Flintoff afterwards. "He'd be the first to admit that, but it's not from a lack of trying. He's giving it everything he's got but he's struggling for his rhythm in this game. But there was an upturn to it. He bowled 30 overs and in patches he did get better."

Those patches were sadly few and far between. As on the first day, he opened with a wide - though not quite as grotesque a delivery as the one that had sailed clean into Flintoff's hands at second slip ("I'd rather it had come off the edge," Freddie later deadpanned) - and though by the end of his spell he was loping in to the crease with a renewed predatory streak, with the score already sailing into the stratosphere it was all a little too late for this Test.

"I thought he was working hard to get his bowling right," added Flintoff. "We've got people around who can work with him but Steve probably knows when he's bowling well himself. He got better through the innings, but when it's not going right it affects your confidence a little bit. Harmy is just striving to get back to his best."

One man on the park at the Gabba today claimed he knew what to do with Harmison, but unfortunately for England, it wasn't one of his team-mates. Instead, Glenn McGrath, Australia's No. 11 and uber-bunny, was on hand to dish out the advice after chipping in with a composed and unbeaten 8.

"I was trying not to premeditate but that's exactly what I was doing," said McGrath as he doled out his batting tips to an amused audience. "I felt Harmy was only going to bowl short at me or at the stumps, so I thought if it was short I could get inside, or if it was full on the stumps I could play down the wicket. But I didn't get out.

"I feel for Harmy because the radar wasn't quite switched on," McGrath added. "But he's got a pretty big fight to get back on track there. His confidence is definitely down, there's no doubt about that."

Flintoff, meanwhile, was desperately trying to put a brave face on another tough day in the field. "Australia do come hard at you, it's something we expect and it's something they've done," he shrugged. "It's been two hard days. Australia played well, and in patches we did alright. Matthew Hoggard came back and bowled well. Ashley Giles in his first Test match for a year, I thought he bowled lovely. There are encouraging signs. But it's fair to say tomorrow we are going to have to bat well."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo