West Indies v England, 1st Test, Kingston, 4th day March 14, 2004

Harmison's magnificent seven



Seven up: Steve Harmison © Getty Images

A lot of things have been written and said about Stephen Harmison over the past few months. The most worrying suggested that he was a bad traveller with a dubious attitude, who didn't have the heart or desire to make it at the highest level. There was even a rumour floating around in Bangladesh that an England official had dismissed Harmison as history. Think again: he's now very much part of England's future.

In yesterday evening's press conference, Nasser Hussain said how England's use of the new ball would be crucial. Well, even though the pitch was still offering good pace and bounce, even Mystic Meg wouldn't have predicted what happened this morning. The match was supposed to an epic, going down to the wire on the fifth day. That was how it was scripted - but Harmison had other ideas.

Harmison has had more Doubting Thomases on his case than most, but today was his day, a landmark in a short but stormy international career. It had been threatening to come for a while now. He ended the South Africa series on a high, with four wickets in the second innings at The Oval to help England square the series, and then took the Man of the Match gong at Dhaka with nine wickets in the game. Today was no accident - it was just waiting to happen.

Harmison is a different prospect now from the erratic, sweaty-palmed tearaway who first gangled into the England dressing-room. A settled team spirit has helped, as has having his close friends Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood and Simon Jones on board. He now feels this is his home. He has also gained the trust of his captain, Michael Vaughan, who was happy to let him loose with an attacking seven-two field and a whole lot of green on the leg side. And Harmison didn't let him down.

From the off, he was bouncing in with a spring in his step. He ruffled some big feathers in the first innings, and that helped set him up for his magnificent seven this morning. Where at times before he lacked that lethal mixture of aggression and accuracy, it was there today in abundance. He didn't get carried away as the ball flew head-high, but kept his length just right. It was not dissimilar to Curtly Ambrose, with whom Harmison has been compared to before. That comparison had previously seemed about as ridiculous as a Billy Bowden six-signal, but suddenly it has started to make sense. To be blunt, West Indies didn't fancy it today. They were beaten at their own game.

West Indies have now been shot down for 61 or fewer in three of their last five Tests against England, which must be an alarming stat for a wounded Brian Lara. Just as worrying for him was that his side donated more extras to England than the combined contribution of West Indies' big four batsmen - himself, Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivrarine Chanderpaul.

But Harmison, and England, won't care about that. Perhaps all that training with Newcastle United paid off. Whatever, they'll be dancing in the streets of Durham tonight.

Freddie Auld, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, is following England's fortunes in Jamaica and Trinidad.