England cricket October 4, 2008

Ashes more important than Stanford - Harmison

Cricinfo staff

Steve Harmison: "I want to play in front of 20,000 people and I want to represent my country for as long as I possibly can" © Getty Images

There is US$20 million up for grabs in the Stanford 20/20 for 20, but Steve Harmison knows it is not the biggest challenge for England in the coming year. The winner-takes-all match against the Stanford Superstars on November 1 is the biggest in cricket, yet Harmison is more focused on regaining the Ashes.

"This is going to be an exciting and intense 12 months of cricket and I cannot wait. People will go on about the Stanford series and the money that is on offer, but every single Englishman knows the Ashes series against Australia is the one to really win," Harmison told the Journal. "The money on offer for the Stanford tournament is a lot, but you've got to win it first. We are going out there to represent our country, just as we will do in India and the West Indies this winter.

Harmison hit back at critics who said he returned to England's limited-overs side for the Stanford millions. "I think we will get a certain amount of stick about playing in the Stanford games, but it was the ECB who organised it, not the players," Harmison said. "We'll get stick if we win and we'll get stick if we lose. I even offered not to play because I knew people would say I've only started playing one-day cricket again for England because of the money, but that wasn't the case."

Harmison said winning the Ashes next year was a "realistic goal". England won the last home contest, in 2005, but were whitewashed 5-0, only the second such result in the Ashes, in the return leg in 2006-07. "I do feel I've got a bit of a score to settle. I know what it's like to win the Ashes and I know what it is like to lose the Ashes 5-0. It's the same for Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss.

"I think it can happen, I really do, but we've got a hell of a lot of cricket to play between now and then. I think we've got ten different series in the next 12 months and I'd like to play in and win them all."

Less than seven months ago, Harmison's future with England looked in doubt. He was dropped after the first Test against New Zealand in Hamilton along with Matthew Hoggard. However, he forced his way back with a stellar county season; he finished with 60 wickets in 12 games as Durham won their first Championship. Harmison was recalled for the final Test against South Africa at The Oval, under new captain Kevin Pietersen, and was later convinced to walk out of his exile from international limited-overs games.

"It is a season which began with me at my lowest ebb, but it is one I will look back on with an enormous sense of satisfaction," Harmison said. "I've achieved my own personal goal of getting back into the England team and Durham have won the title, I couldn't have asked for much more. This has been a fantastic season for me, unbelievable really. We had our disappointments at Durham, losing in two semi-finals, but we kept on going. We got a bit of momentum behind us and it never really stopped. I'd set my heart on winning the title with Durham this season, I did that months ago, so to have achieved it really is something special."