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September 27, 2008
"It's unbelievable," said Harmison. "We've only had 16 years as a first-class county, and there are some young lads up there who don't realise what sort of achievement they've just had. I'm just so pleased for everyone connected with Durham Cricket Club and cricket in the North-East - it's a fantastic achievement. You can't underestimate what it means from where we've come.
"The Ashes takes some beating, because of the nature of that series win, but behind that, I don't think there is a prouder moment in my career," said Harmison. Last month he got his international career back on track in impressive fashion against South Africa, but he was quick to acknowledge that that could never have happened without the support of his club, who restored his morale when it was at rock-bottom after a disastrous tour of New Zealand, and slowly but surely coaxed him back to full match fitness.
In fact, such was Harmison's gratitude, he claimed that his recall to England's one-day squad had only happened on the condition he was allowed to carry on playing for his county throughout the season. Whereas key England players such as Andrew Flintoff have been made to sit out the final rounds of the Championship, Harmison remained an integral performer for Durham, and has now finished with 60 wickets at 22.66.
"I was always coming back here, never any question," said Harmison. "That was something that was agreed in the 24 hours I had to make my mind up whether I wanted to play in the one-dayers. I said I would come back with a couple of conditions, one of them being that I had to come back and play for Durham. After New Zealand, I wasn't in the greatest of positions, but now with Durham's help, I'm back in the Test team, back in the one-day team, and now we've won the Championship."
Durham have now become the 15th county to win the game's oldest and most prestigious domestic competition. Somerset, Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire - all of whom have been competing for over a century - are still waiting for their first titles. Having entered the fray in 1992, with a team of veterans including David Graveney and a soon-to-be-retired Ian Botham, Durham spent the best part of a decade as the competition's whipping boys. But last season they announced their coming-of-age by winning the FP Trophy, their first piece of silverware, and now there is no looking back.
"This is my 12th season with Durham, and I've probably had more bad years than good years," said Harmison. "So this is just a great feeling, and it'll be massive in the North-East. There is a big cricket following up there. Some young lads up there [on the balcony] might say they didn't get as many runs as they'd like, or as many wickets, but they've contributed to the Championship, and that is an unbelievable achievement. I don't think they realise what that means to this county."
Fittingly, it was Harmison himself who delivered the knock-out blows on the final morning against Kent at Canterbury. Bowling with his left arm in a cast, he uprooted James Tredwell's off stump, before removing Robbie Joseph and Martin Saggers with consecutive deliveries, to cue pandemonium among his team-mates. Harmison was jubilantly bundled to the ground beneath a sea of bodies - which may not have been the best treatment for a man with a broken arm, but it was the most heart-felt.
"I got out of the way very, very quickly!" said Harmison. "There were lots of big lads coming at me, but I think they soon realised who was at the bottom of the pile. I've cracked a bone in my wrist, but if you're going to have a crack it's the one you want. It's in the middle of the bone, and it'll heal quickly - two weeks in a cast and I'll be fine. I'm just worried about my golf, because I've got three weeks off playing cricket!"
Harmison added that he has no concerns about being fit for the Stanford match in November, assuming that contest goes ahead as planned, and was looking ahead with renewed excitement to an England itinerary that will take in trips to India and West Indies before culminating with an Ashes summer next year.
"I won't be playing much for Durham next year, which is why I wanted to come back now," said Harmison. "I recognised how much they've helped me since I came back from New Zealand, so I couldn't turn my back on them."
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