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July 27, 2006
It was a little over a year ago that Steve Harmison raced into Australia at Lord's; smacked Justin Langer on the head; tore a gash in Ricky Ponting's cheek and generally bowled like a demon. Though England lost that encounter, his performance ignited England's summer. In a similar fashion, Harmison's remarkable spell of 6 for 19 today, in the second Test against Pakistan at Old Trafford, has not only put England in command but rather suggested their summer has finally begun.
Before this Test his name littered the back pages, or wherever it is English cricket's status lies in the dailies at the moment, with rallying cries and calls for him to "come to the party". On a pitch which was rightly suspected to be seriously greasy, Harmison was at his most lethal, gaining prodigious tennis-ball-like bounce with which no Pakistan batsmen could cope. He began with three maidens - as if to emphasise his excitement at what might be in store, or his delight at Andrew Strauss losing the toss - before tearing in like a well-oiled steam engine.
Pakistan's curious decision to promote Kamran Akmal to No. 2, in place of Salman Butt, lasted a mere six overs as Harmison firstly removed Imran Farhat before Akmal edged him straight to Marcus Trescothick at first slip. Geraint Jones did his utmost to unsettle Trescothick by leaping salmon-like in front of him but, for once, the crowd sighed in relief instead of pity that the England wicketkeeper didn't get a glove to it.
At the other end, Harmison received brilliant support from Matthew Hoggard. The overcast, muggy conditions in Manchester favoured his outswing as he bent the ball markedly, and provided the perfect foil to Harmison's vicious lifters. Inevitably, perhaps, Mohammad Yousuf - double centurion at Lord's last week and owner of the most impenetrable of defences - took the attack to England. Together with the recalled Younis Khan the pair put on 81 combative runs for the third wicket. Younis was particularly impressive against Hoggard, countering his swing by planting a heavy front foot doggedly down the pitch and check-driving him down the ground.
A rip-snorting delivery rising up dangerously into Inzamam-ul-Haq's throat was fended to Pietersen, whose butter fingers of 2005 were today replaced with buckets (he took three fine catches and effected a run-out). Shahid Afridi briefly threatened to blitz a quick hundred, as he is prone to do, but fell foul of Panesar's impressive guile and was beaten in the flight. Abdul Razzaq and Mohammad Sami were mere rabbits in the headlights, and Harmison mowed them down to record his first five-for since Lord's last year. It was a quite fabulous spell of bowling: effortlessly fast, and at times unplayable.
Interestingly, Hoggard went wicketless. Without the height and subsequent bounce which his team-mate Harmison extracts, and even despite the copious swing he gained, his skiddier bowling wasn't suited to the pitch in much the same way as it didn't suit Pakistan's attack.
The visitors bowled too wide - and criminally so given the meagre total they were defending. Though they picked up two wickets - and in truth it must be noted that the luck was not with them in the evening session - England were determined and confident, even swashbuckling at times. It was Strauss, after losing Trescothick early, who initially anchored England's reply with a beautifully crafted 42 which demonstrated a man acutely aware of his responsibility.
However Razzaq, who bowled poorly all afternoon, took advantage of Strauss's loss in concentration when play had to be held up as the sun reflected off an open window. Upon the resumption, he was enticed into nibbling at a little off-cutter. Alastair Cook then enhanced his reputation as a ridiculously level-headed youngster with a sweetly-struck unbeaten 65, taking him past 500 Test runs in the process and handing England a vital lead of 49. With Pietersen at the crease, even despite a pitch which is by no means a five-dayer, the lead tomorrow morning ought to be built upon in a hurry.
Before the Test Strauss spoke of his desire to rekindle the passion and energy England showed last summer. After a brilliant bowling display and a promising show with the bat, it's hard to argue that he hasn't succeeded.
Marcus Trescothick c Akmal b Sami 5 (30 for 1)
Stuck in the crease, nibbled at it
Andrew Strauss c Akmal b Razzaq 42 (95 for 2)
Loss in concentration, edged one behind
Imran Farhat c Pietersen b Harmison 0 (4 for 1)
Spooned to backward point, well taken catch
Kamran Akmal c Trescothick b Harmison 4 (9 for 2)
Full delivery takes the outside edge, Jones dives in front of Trescothick who pouched a fine catch
Mohammad Yousuf c Jones b Panesar 38 (90 for 3)
Poor shot off the back foot minutes before lunch
Younis Khan c Collingwood b Harmison 44 (93 for 4)
Short, wide and smacked straight to point
Faisal Iqbal c Jones b Panesar 3 (93 for 5)
Angled into wicketkeeper's gloves
Inzamam-ul-Haq c Pietersen b Harmison 0 (93 for 6)
Vicious ball fended to gully
Shahid Afridi c Pietersen b Panesar 15 (112 for 7)
Beaten in the flight attempting to hit him into France
Mohammad Sami c Strauss b Harmison 1 (113 for 8)
Edged to second slip
Abdul Razzaq b Harmison 9 (118 for 9)
Cut back, beaten by pace
Danish Kaneria run out 0 (119 all out)
Lazy, and failed, attempt to run his bat in
Shorter tours don't allow you time to get into form, and domestic cricket isn't demanding enough