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February 29, 2008
It's never easy to tell what's going through Steve Harmison's head, but on a day when he produced his first five-wicket haul of the New Zealand tour, the good vibes were more clearly visible than usual. While his fellow bowlers succumbed to injury and illness - and in Chris Tremlett's case, ended up being booked on a flight back to England - Harmison bowled ten overs off the reel to finish with figures of 5 for 100, a performance that sparked his side's fightback against the New Zealand Select XI.
Even so, Harmison has suffered too many barren days of late to allow one day of success to go to his head. "I got marginally better the more and more I bowled," he said. "It feels as though I'm getting better, and to get a five-wicket haul is great. I've been in the country eight days, I've bowled in three innings and I've got eight wickets. There's a lot of improvement to come from that, and hopefully it will carry on through the three Tests."
Harmison's arrival in New Zealand was delayed by five days following the birth of his fourth child, Charlie, which put a significant dent in his preparation time, especially since he had not bowled competitively since the tour of Sri Lanka before Christmas. "I wouldn't swap the world for coming here late," he said, "but I am the sort of bowler that does take time to [get used to] being in a different country. I've acclimatised better than I thought."
Though he bowled with good rhythm and stamina in the Sri Lanka series, Harmison admitted his performances at the end of last year would count for little now. "It's a new scenario and new pitches because I've had six weeks off," he said. "But I feel in as good a shape as I've ever been. I had a good blowout after Christmas as everyone needed, but then I got into the gym and worked hard for five or six days a week. I've been working on my strength and stability, and I'm not as floppy as I used to be, and I feel as though that has shown today."
His rhythm and control was slightly awry at the start of today's spell, but Harmison found his line and length as the innings went on. "I get better through lengthy spells," he said. "I'm going to take each day as it comes, keep going and keep trying. I was picking things up and changing things the more the day went on, but today a few things clicked in my action and I came up with a few wickets."
To be tinkering with his approach so close to a Test match is far from ideal, but Harmison conceded that where his form is concerned, there's no real alternative. "I'm as frustrated as anybody, but it's the way I am and it's not for want of trying," he said. "I try my nuts off every time I go on the field. Sometimes at the top [of my action] things aren't going right, but it's at the top and you can't drag it back. All I've ever done is to try my best on the field, and sometimes on trips things get better through time."
Harmison, however, admitted he wouldn't find his full range until he takes the field at Hamilton for the first Test. "There's still a bit more in there," he said, "but that always comes with adrenalin, when you're being watched by 10-15,000 people. The intensity always up when it's a Test match and you're representing England against another country. That's not a negative thing, it's just something you do as an individual, to lift that one or two percent more.
"I bowled some quick balls, some good balls, and some bad balls as well," he said. "but the more and more this trip has gone on there have been more good balls in an over than bad. I've got to be relatively happy."
He was also relatively happy with the way England's warm-up match had panned out. "Sometimes you need days like that," he said of England's first-innings collapse. "If you bowl a team out for 80 and get 500 it's a waste of time. You want to be tested and do a bit of soul-searching, lick your wounds and have a look deep inside. I think the majority of us have done that and it's the ideal workout for Hamilton next week."